Want to be the Daniel Day-Lewis of writing?

Daniel Day-LewisBy Jaguar MENA

Steven McIntosh, writing in the BBC News, poses an interesting idea for writers looking for that little something extra:

Could writers benefit from the same tactics as method actors, who immerse themselves in extreme surroundings in order to prepare for a role?

Every February, as the Oscars roll around, movie fans revel in stories about actors who have gone to extreme lengths to prepare for parts.

Daniel Day-Lewis learned to track and skin animals and fight with tomahawks for The Last of the Mohicans, while, more recently, Leonardo DiCaprio plunged into an icy river and sank his teeth into a hunk of raw bison while filming the Oscar-nominated film The Revenant.

Actors going to such lengths has become more common in recent years and a cynic might argue it certainly did not harm their film’s publicity, but given the apparent success of their technique, could working in a similarly immersive way also benefit novelists?

While I’ve always thought there’s much common ground between acting and writing, what McIntosh is suggesting takes the idea a step further. I think he’s right. Knowing how to do the things you describe your characters doing certainly adds visceral detail to your story. I’m reminded of the research Jean Auel did for The Clan of The Cave Bear. Like her protagonist Ayla, Auel can weave baskets and make her own stone tools. Auel has said that mastering such skills gives her writing an “informed subjectivity” that she could not otherwise achieve. I agree.

I thoroughly enjoy researching my stories, and sometimes that involves more than simply nailing down a particular fact. Despite many years of hunting, backpacking, and hiking, I’d never rappelled before I taught myself while writing my flash fiction piece Cameron Obscura. In fact, all life experience can be put to work in your writing. My career in computer programming and artificial intelligence in the insurance industry no doubt informed my sci-fi pieces, and certainly prompted my misgivings about the dehumanizing effects of technology, as expressed in Snake Heart.

And I have no doubt that my travels in Mexico, as well as my experience with firearms and primitive weapons, livened up my novella Aztec Midnight with sensory details and authenticity you just can’t get from online research.

Maybe that crazy Daniel Day-Lewis is on to something …

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