Why are actors able to perform a character better than the one the author writes?

February 21, 2019
Bob Eckhard


Hi all

Sorry, no clever writer resource for you today but instead something equally valuable in helping your stories leap off the page, wrestle the poor reader to the floor and give you every chance of making an impression with your writing. Intrigued? Then read on…

Following on from a recent post on the value of audience let’s turn our attention to what writers can learn about their scripts when actors interpret them in ways that go beyond what they imagined. My first experience of this came at the London Screenwriter Festival when a number of my friends recounted how in submitting a section of a script to be workshopped by a director and actors, they had been blown away as the scenes were interpreted in ways they could not have hoped for or imagined. Without exception, all of them returned raving about the experience and what they had learnt from the actor’s performances who had brought something to the script that they- as writers -had not envisaged. A kind of ‘value added’ if you like – which in the hands of skillful actors had brought the script to life.

Now, interestingly, I’m pretty sure I know what this ‘value-added ‘ is. In fact, every writer worth their salt knows what it is but the problem is for us creatives in the midst of writing a multitude of storylines, we often fail to realise the essence of each character and the raison d’etre of that scene. This insight came to me during rehearsals of my recent play when I was privy to an interesting moment  before each scene in which the director queried and primed the actors with one or both of these questions…

What is your motivation?

What is your objective?

(To which the actors would state motivation and objective to help considate their understanding of that person/character they were about to present)

In fact, in these two questions lies the essence of every scene and story – what is the character’s emotion, their subtext, their desire, the lengths that they will go to hide, subvert, coerce, seduce, flatter, maintain silence, cojole, threaten etc. And then what is their intended goal in that scene – what do they want to win or avoid: girl, letter, diamonds, truth, lies,  accusation, love, conflict, homelessness, divorce, unity  and so on ad infinitum. In short, it is what every writer intends for their characters and think they have written or implied on the page. However, it is actors – tasked with the focus of just one character- who inhabit and enhance the person and their motivation, their desires and objectives.

Still want a resource to take away? Then, memorise/write down these two questions on a post it and place it somewhere you’ll see it before writing each scenes. Til next time…

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