Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Audition by Michael Shurtleff - What Are You Fighting For?

The following is the second in a series of twelve articles based upon the twelve guideposts listed in Audition: Everything an Actor Needs to Know to Get the Part by Michael Shurtleff. The author was the casting director for many of David Merrick's Broadway productions. He also worked with Bob Fosse and Andrew Lloyd Webber. His book is known as the actor’s bible. If you take a college acting class, it will likely be required reading. While Shurtleff’s book is aimed at actors, his principles are beneficial to both authors and directors as well. This series is geared toward authors.

What Are You Fighting For?

Shurtleff notes that actors often break a scene down into “beats” or sections, and then find a motivation or goal for each beat. He states that this is a good method, but that it doesn’t go far enough. He says that when he asked an actor what his or her goal was in a scene, he often received the response, “I want to get away from this person. I want to run out of the room.”

Then he asked, “Why don’t you run? What keeps you there?” The answers to these questions made the actor more effective in the scene. Instead of using “goal” or “motivation” or any other standard acting terms, Shurtleff regularly asked his actors, “What are you fighting for?” Authors would benefit from asking this question of their characters. They must find a positive motivation for their characters, since this will serve them in a more forceful, stronger, more emotional way than a negative choice will. Characters may appear negative or languid on the surface, but authors must dig deeper into what motivates the characters in the strongest, most positive terms.

If a character states, “I’m bored,” the author must know what the character wants instead of the boring condition he’s in and open him up and let him fight for that. Shurtleff uses the word, “fight” because he feels that nothing less than the strongest, most positive goal possible will do.

Authors must make the most active choice possible for every character in every scene. When each character makes the strongest choices of what he is fighting for in every scene, life is being breathed into the story, and keeping readers turning the pages.

So if all your characters are pitching hard for what they’re fighting for in every scene, how do you achieve balance in each scene? Shurtleff says it’s through relationship, through a heightening of the awareness of each character has in life toward other people. Authors need to know each of their character’s perceptions of give and take in a relationship, the character’s consideration for the other characters in each scene, their characters’ sensitivity to their other characters’ reactions to what they’re fighting for and a heightened awareness of how the characters tend to affect each other.

Characters need conflict; it’s what drives drama. Authors don’t create characters in the normal course of their everyday lives. We thrust our characters into the extraordinary, the unknown. Find the maximum conflict for your characters. Look at each character individually in each scene and ask not only what is he fighting for, but also determine who is interfering with your character getting what he’s fighting for. Do battle with her; fight her; woo her; charm her; revile her. Find as many ways as you can for your character to go about getting what he’s fighting for. Each way can spawn new ways, insightful dialogue and other possibilities limited only by the author’s mind. The more ways you find, the more interesting your scene.

According to Shurtleff, all of life is a fight. We always want something. What seems like defeat is just another way of fighting. We always want something and are always fighting toward that end, no matter how guised our actions might be. Authors must determine what the basic fight is in every character in every scene. The various ways in which each individual fight is waged is what propels the story forward. Instill each relationship in each scene with what your characters are fighting for.

When it comes to relationships specifically and life in general, fantasy shines head and shoulders above reality. We don’t live for reality, but for the fantasies, the dreams of what might be. It’s the dreams that keep us going, and that’s what authors need to inject into their characters. Romance is everyone’s secret dream. Look how many songs and movies are written about it. Never distrust romance. Nothing could be stronger. Most stories of any genre contain some amount of romance. Look for the opposites. Trust that romance is strong. Tenderness is stronger than screaming. Whenever you have two considerations which seem to cancel each other out, do both. Find the positive in the characters in your scene so you can play off of the opposites and add dimension to your characters. Look at the most you can find in a relationship between characters in your scene.

The bottom line: Don’t settle for anything less than the biggest dream for your character’s future. Fight to make your characters' dreams come true.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Unauthorized Internet Release Aborts Book

Shortly after the unauthorized release of a partial copy of the fifth and final book in the young adult “Twilight” series on the Internet, author Stephenie Meyer puts the official release of the book on hold in protest. The novel tells the love story of a human teenager named Bella and her vampire lover, Edward. Meyer is the author of Twilight" and its sequels "New Moon," "Eclipse" and "Breaking Dawn.”

The author reports on her Web site that she had given draft versions of Midnight Sun to trusted individuals for a good purpose, and that due to little changes which were made to the manuscript at different times, she has a pretty good idea of how the leak happened. Meyers hopes that her fans will not read the flawed draft version of the story online since this was a flawed, draft version of the tale.

"This has been a very upsetting experience for me, but I hope it will at least leave my fans with a better understanding of copyright and the importance of artistic control," wrote Meyer. "I feel too sad about what has happened to continue working on "Midnight Sun," and so it is on hold indefinitely."

Be mindful of the people you let see the draft versions of your story.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Audition by Michael Shurtleff - Relationships

The following is the first in a series of twelve articles based upon the twelve guideposts listed in Audition: Everything an Actor Needs to Know to Get the Part by Michael Shurtleff. The author was the casting director for many of David Merrick's Broadway productions. He also worked with Bob Fosse and Andrew Lloyd Webber. His book is known as the actor’s bible. If you take a college acting class, it will likely be required reading. While Shurtleff’s book is aimed at actors, his principles are beneficial to both authors and directors as well. This series is geared toward authors.


An author’s life can be a difficult one in many respects. It is a career replete with rejection. With the regular merging of publishing houses, competition is fierce. Authors must maintain their language skills, enhance their creativity and balance this and all other aspects of the writing life with every other facet of their lives.

Actors must audition before producers and casting directors to get their roles. Authors must query publishers to get their publishing contracts. Shurtleff believes that actors waste a lot of time in their auditions searching for another character. He recommends they use themselves. It’s impossible to create a fully developed character in the ten minutes or less in which actors have to study the lines they are about to rehearse in an audition. While authors can take as long as they want to craft a scene and create a believable character, it makes sense to put themselves into their characters. The nature of storytelling requires characters to be put in extraordinary circumstances. Some refer to the initial scenario in which the character is thrust out of his or her ordinary course of life circumstances as an inciting incident. This is a great starting point for authors to write what they know and put themselves into the character. How would you, the author, react to this extraordinary circumstance in which you have just thrust your character? Characters can digress from the author as they develop.

Shurtleff frequently saw actors audition from a position of what their characters would not do. For example, ”My character wouldn’t kiss her, because of their horrible divorce.” Shurtleff encouraged actors to find the conflict within their characters from their own personal perspective. He encouraged them to refrain from such limitations of their work, to stop being less than themselves, imprisoned in a straightjacket of don’ts. Characters need freedom to feel, to behave interestingly in a scene. Authors need to feel this same freedom, and shed their own limitations, on behalf of their characters. Allow anything to be possible for your characters. Let them make choices that give them the maximum possible involvement in the scene.

Authors need to find a reason for their characters to be in each scene, a reason to express their fullest feelings deeply and to say 'yes' to the possibilities that are within a relationship. Since human beings are motivated by their dreams, dreams of love, fulfillment, success, health, acceptance, beauty and power, what we wish will happen in our lives motivates everything that we do. Authors need to find the dream in each one of their characters and put these dreams, latent as they may be at times, in each of their scenes to keep their characters motivated to give them a purpose and to keep readers turning the pages of their books. Authors don’t need to know every minute detail of their characters, their favorite ice cream flavor, which baseball team gets them regularly in the stands, etc., unless that specific information is going to be utilized in that specific scene. What needs to remain in the author’s mind are the dreams that move the characters forward in their lives.

Put yourself in the position of each character about whom you’re writing. Look at the relationships that comprise their lives. Relationships are at the heart of a story. They are essential. Concerning each character you’re creating in every scene of your story, ask:

  1. What is my relationship to each of the other characters in this scene?

  2. How do I feel about each of these characters

  3. Where is the love in the scene (not the absence of it)

Shurtleff feels that the “where is the love?” question should be asked in every scene, or else the deepest emotional content won’t be discovered. It is the emotion that keeps readers turning the pages of a story. This is not to imply that every scene is a romantic one. Sometimes the scene is about the absence or deprivation of love. Asking the love question in each scene helps provide the most immediate emotional involvement for a character. Even if love is not displayed in the scene, admitting the love and its reason creates immediate conflict within the character, its level dependent upon other factors in the scene.

Authors need to expand their concepts of love beyond that which they find chiefly idealistic and altruistic. Expand your concept of what constitutes love to include the various peculiar and perverse forms it can take in human relationships, and it’s easier to find emotional commitment in the scenes you’re creating. The desire for love, to give it or to receive it, preferably both simultaneously, is a primary propellant in human beings. Authors must learn that love comes in all forms, and in a multitude of forms that they may or may not individually admire. Characters are nothing without creating and developing relationships with the other characters in the scenes with them.