Yesterday I was talking with a colleague of mine, a successful screenwriter, who was dumbfounded by the number of student writers she has recently worked with who didn’t understand the importance of breaking down characters’ actions into small pieces.  That it is in small, seemingly insignificant actions that a story is allowed to come fully to life and tremendous truths are revealed.

I was reminded again of Stanislavski in An Actor Prepares as his acting teacher Tortsov says to his students in Chapter 8 (see my first post on this book from a couple of weeks back):

“Since it is impossible to take control of the whole at once, we must break it up and absorb each piece separately…When you cannot believe in the larger action you must reduce it to smaller and smaller proportions until you can believe it.”

What I find interesting is that what Stanislavski is telling his student actors could just as easily be told to writers learning their craft.  In fact, so much of what he says pertains directly to the writing process.  And, of course, that makes perfect sense seeing the material the actor works with is generated by us, the writers.

He goes on:

“Perhaps you do not even yet realize that from believing in the truth of one small action an actor can come to feel himself in his part and to have faith in the reality of the whole play.”

Just substitute the word “writer” for “actor” and you have a basic truth in the writing process:  that action is the central driving force of any screenplay (or play for that matter) and that often it’s the small, specific actions that hold the keys to good storytelling and the creation of a script that lifts off the page.

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I’m the Program Director of the low-residency MFA in Writing for Stage and Screen being offered by the New Hampshire Institute of Art.  Our last residency ran January 3-11, 2016 and we are still considering applications for starting the program with our July 2016 residency that runs July 21-31.  I’m also a playwright and screenwriter, producing partner in my production company Either/Or Films (The Sensation of Sight and Only Daughter), a professional script consultant, and the author of The Playwrights Process.

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