Write Like an Actress

MRAbout once every 5-7 years, I wonder about Molly Ringwald.  I wonder what it was like to be the real life version of big hair and a synthesizer background—you know, incredibly awesome in the 80s, and today just…not.  Seriously, what does one do after they have undeniably peaked in their career and maybe even their lives?  The last time I had this thought process (about a month ago when I considered proposing the name “The Breakfast Club” for my writer’s group), I still didn’t know the answer.  Today, I do.  You see, recently I came across an article Molls wrote for the New York Times called “Act Like a Writer,” and from that, I figured it out: after someone has peaked in their career, they switch to a new one AND allow the former, exceptional experience to inform the latter one (assuming, of course, they haven’t become a drug addict).

In Molly Ringwald’s case, she has decided to become a novelist.  And, according to her, writing fiction draws on many of the same skills that are required of actors.  I’m not going to pretend like I read her book, but I did read her article, and she made some interesting and informative parallels between acting and writing.  Below are the top three takeaways on writing from an established and proven actress:

  1. The appeal of a character is the back story: Molls says that as both an actress and now a writer she develops intricate histories for her characters, imagining their homes, fights, familial relationships, etc.  Whether or not these are ever revealed to the audience is irrelevant, they add nuance to the characters.
  2. Find the humanity in the stereotypes you assign. The Breakfast Club was, literally, a story about shoving a bunch of stereotypes into a room together.  By showing the unique way each person was suffering yet enabling them to find a connection to each other, the writers and the actors were, Molly suggests, able to turn the characters from “types” into people.
  3. You can never really control how your characters are perceived by others.  Molls says that part of the appeal of writing a novel was that she could control all of the characters and back stories; however, at some point she realized that’s simply not true.  People will always impose their own experiences, relationships and ideas into the stories they read.  Personally, that is one of the appeals of the reading/writing experience, and I also believe that’s why movies are never as good the books they are based on—they just can’t compete with one’s imagination.

Anyway, I’m glad Molls is doing OK, and was able to share some insight with aspiring writers like myself.  Til next time, ciao!

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