You’ve heard of method acting, right? Lots of actors use it from Reese Witherspoon and Nicholas Cage to Johnny Depp and Jane Fonda. For those of you not familiar with the idea, it is loosely defined as this:
“Lee Strasberg’s method is based upon the idea that in order to develop an emotional and cognitive understanding of their roles, actors should use their own experiences to identify personally with their characters. The method uses techniques to reproduce the character’s emotional state by recalling emotions or sensations from the actor’s own life.”
I’ve been thinking about this idea and how I could apply it to writing. There is an old adage that one should “write what you know,” but I believe that applies more to writing from your heart and not trying to contrive feelings that fall flat and come across as inauthentic. Because let’s be realistic, if we only wrote about things we were familiar with (i.e. our own life experiences) there would be no science fiction, no fantasy, nor historical fiction, or any other genre but contemporary fiction or biography. And let me tell you that as a librarian, there are already too many memoirs out there and we don’t need more. Unless your life has been extraordinary, no one wants to hear it.
But as is stands, there are a lot of possibilities in broadening one’s experiences to become a better writer. I know a lot of us already live too much in our own heads so it’s good to get out once in a while and try new things.
For the novel on which I am currently working my heroine is a crack shot with not just firearms but also a bow and arrow. I had an archery unit in P.E. in high school (God help me, some twenty odd years ago) and I remember it as the one bright spot for a mostly uncoordinated kid. I was good at it. I excelled at it.
I wanted to remember the feeling of holding the bow in my hand and drawing an arrow. I wanted to think consciously about how it felt, both physically and psychologically. What it was like to take aim and let that arrow loose.
Since I live in South Florida I didn’t have to wait for spring to find a way to try it out again. I found the closest archery range was in North Ft. Myers, which was about an hour’s drive from home. Lee County Archers is a private club but every Thursday afternoon from 2-6 p.m. they offer free instruction for beginners, and even lend you equipment at no charge. I convinced my friend Di to come with me and we went last Thursday. Our instructor John was knowledgable and patient, and a very good teacher.
From the moment I loosed that first arrow I was hooked again. We were out there for over two hours shooting. Di was a natural and took to it right away even though she had been a small child the last time she shot a bow and arrow. I was less adept, but I found that as the afternoon progressed my arrow clusters were getting closer and closer together.
The experience will help me tremendously in my writing, I believe. Just knowing the physical sensations will be a huge help when my protagonist picks up a bow and shoots her first arrow. I may never be a dead-eye, but I am going to have fun with it.
In fact, Di and I both loved it so much we are going to find a way to continue without having to drive an hour to North Ft. Myers. It may take some doing, there is equipment to procure, but I think we both want to keep practicing. Our instructor said that someone using a sightless bow would need to practice three times a week in order to steadily improve. I’m sorry, but I can’t make that drive so often.
In case you were wondering, that is a barebow I am shooting. A barebow has the elements of a compound bow but without any sights on it, like a recurve bow. We also tried a regular compound bow and a recurve. The recurve bow was the one I really wanted to work with, but I found that girls with big racks have a problem with their girls getting in the way. No wonder the Amazon women cut off a breast in Greek mythology.
So what am I going to do next? In April I signed up my husband and I for our local Sheriff’s Firearm Safety Class. Four hours of classroom instruction and three hours on the firing range. This one scares the bejesus out of me but that’s kind of the point. Not that I’m interested in owning a handgun, I just want to know what it is like to pick up a pistol and fire it.
But that’s April. Who knows what experiences I will find to enhance my writing before then. I’m always on the lookout…