Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Book Ghostwriting: Getting Into "Character" with help from Richard Armitage

"I think I'm a concentrating actor. So in order to do my work in the course of a day, particularly with a character like this I have to concentrate. So it's about staying in the scene, staying with my head in the scene and attempting to keep the character with me. It doesn't mean I can't have a conversation or go and make a cup of coffee. But I actually stay with the character for 18 months." ~ British actor Richard Armitage, star of "The Hobbit" film series

As a writer, I love reading quotes by other famous writers (Jane Austen and C.S. Lewis, in particular) for inspiration when delving into a project.

However, during the past six weeks, I've had to turn to a completely different type of "artist" -- an actor -- to light a spark for a new project.

I've just signed on to ghost write a book. I can't divulge details yet. But right at the outset of this project, I hit a major snag:

I was ghost writing in my own voice.

I had worked on my introductory chapter and was really pleased with myself! I have to say ... I felt smug. I just knew my client would be effusive! I'd worked for about two days on this chapter. I was certain that I'd covered everything she wanted to convey, in a manner that would capture the reader's fancy and drive them further into the book.

The morning after I sent it off, I sat down with my steaming mug of French-pressed coffee and a gorgeous Southern biscuit slathered in honey. I gleefully opened my computer, expecting to see an email that said, "You're brilliant! Thank you! I love this!"


No, no, no, no, no, no, no.

Yes, that's what she said.


My ego hit the floor like a a guy taking a knock-out punch from Floyd Mayweather.

"How in the world could she NOT like this?"  I thought.

To assuage my angst (if you're a writer, you know how you have to recover after your material is rejected), I took a mental break and pulled up some Youtube interviews with a favorite actor, Richard Armitage. You may know him for his role in "The Hobbit." On this particular morning, I pulled up an interview that he did to promote his current theatrical performance in London on "The Crucible." As I listened to how he traveled to Massachusetts to wrap his brain around the Puritanical community and the character he would be playing ... suddenly it hit me.

Ghost writing really is nothing more than acting on a page, rather than on a stage.

I pulled up more interviews by Armitage to see how he gets himself into character. One of his more fascinating exercises is that he writes his own fiction, creating "character diaries" for each person he is portraying.

"I kind of do stay with the character, yeah. He's always there. It's like marinating something – you're sitting in a marinade the whole time," he told one interviewer.

What I was missing was my client's voice. In short, I needed to "sit in marinade" in her character.

Part of her book is about her strong passion for her vegan lifestyle. So this week, believe it or not, I have eschewed MEAT. I have watched every link she's sent (Netflix documentaries and Youtube videos alike) about the evils of the agricultural industry.

And today, I hit the supermarket and picked up vegan butter, vegan sour cream, soy milk ... and looked into how to prepare vegan meals ... and have prepared a fully vegan diet to follow while I write this book.

Extreme, you may say?

Well, all I can tell you is that when I turned in the re-write of that chapter, the client came back to me and said one of her best friends remarked, "It sounds just like you." She's pleased with the changes.

I've been writing newspaper, wire service and now magazine articles for 25 years. I've never had to write in someone else's voice until now. But I am having so much fun "marinating" in my "character."

And, thanks to a fellow creative artist/soul, I think I've found the answer to successfully segueing into a new writing venture.

I'll keep you posted to let you know how the rest of the project goes.

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