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Getting Into Character by Brandilyn Collins

01/03/2012. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Getting Into Character in the USA - or Buy Getting Into Character in the UK

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pub: Wiley. 212 page small enlarged paperback. Price: GBP 10.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-471-05894-6).

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Just so we’re on track here, the sub-title of Brandilyn Collins’ book ‘Getting Into Character’ is ‘Seven Secrets A Novelist Can Learn From Actors’ which you would think encapsulates what the book is about. However, once you start reading, Collins is actually being specific to method acting as originally taught by Constantin Stanislavsky. It does make me wonder if there’s any difference between Stanislavsky and Lee Strasberg’s method acting technique but we’ll stay within context for this book.

A few times in the past, I’ve said that character writing can be treated as a form of method acting because you can’t write characters using your own personality and you have to build up different traits as a framework. Whereas I would pin this to the needs of the story and anecdotal history, Collins’ book goes into more of the basics and as it says on the cover, do it the way that actors develop their mannerisms and such for stage and film.

Getting down to the nitty-gritty and detailing each chapter might actually stop you buying your own copy so excuse me if I don’t do that. Collins explains the process for each secret and then demonstrates if from a variety of story samples so you get to see it in action.

She uses this book to make a strong argument for understanding the emotional content of the characters you write and how shorter sentences mean action. Not quite sure why she would use an example from Dickens where he uses two very long extended sentences but I doubt if sentence pace was fully understood back then.

What I found interesting at the back of the book was a detailed bibliography of other books on writing characters that contained books by SF writers Nancy Kress (she’s actually got two noted) and Orson Scott Card and one by fantasy writer Ray Bradbury.

As a writer, I’ve found I already do variations of some of the thing Collins points out in this book. If you’re a novice fiction writer then this book might give you some food for thought in character development.

GF Willmetts

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