At the outset, I recalled the limitations of method actors like Al Pacino who, given his background, plays mobsters and urban characters effortlessly. In method training, you see, you always begin by asking yourself if you were this character, what would you do? If you come across any appreciable difference, all you have to do is make a simple adjustment-- e.g., give yourself a limp, speak more deliberately and so on. Your main task is to get involved in the circumstances in question, tap your own feelings and make the experience your own. As a result, for instance, after Pacino played the title character in Shakespeare’s Richard the Third, the review in the New York Times was entitled “Richard of Third Avenue.” In terms of any jump to creative writing, the method doesn’t take into consideration the intensions of the playwright or screenwriter and ways to best bring their vision or world to life. .
On the face of it then, Grape’s method writing would seem a bit problematic. In the first place, actors should ask themselves what if I were the character what would she or he do? Then, if we segue to writing, all characters should have unique sensibilities, backgrounds and motivation within the context of their times and unique circumstances.
And so, ironically, Grape’s book becomes a springboard to come to terms with the art and craft of storytelling and the matter of style. Arguably, the first consideration should be, Do I have a story I’m dying to tell and is it really worth telling? As for characters, who especially do I need to send out there, clashing with or aided and abetted by which other indispensable figures, so that the tale becomes self-generating? Hopefully leading to some meaningful truth or revelation? Incorporating the setting in order to let these provocative circumstances play itself out?
As for voice or style, it generally refers to the writer’s outlook on life. His or her stance, philosophy or unique way of looking at things. As a reporter required to get everything down succinctly coupled with his own macho preoccupations, Hemingway developed his unique approach. The jaded mystery writer Patricia Highsmith was taken with the lengths people go to deceive one another to the point of actually trading places at any cost.
On a gentler note, Louise Penny provides us with a more accessible way to consider the link between voice and method. Her work stems from her love of her province south of Montreal, the inner life and relationships of people in a small village, her warmth, humanity and human insights. Now add her abiding interest in unraveling schemes that have moral consequences and her view of what makes life worth living. Add also her admiration for her central character Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, his growth, experiences and development and you can begin to see all that goes into the creation of an endearing series.
All told, I can’t help recalling what a dean at the theater department at Yale once told me. He claimed the method was popular because it was easy and Americans are always looking for a quick fix. To counter, I guess there’s nothing for it but to spend time reading the masters of a favorite genre like crime fiction, taking a deep dive, appreciating all that went into their work until you’re ready to join their company. And then tell your tale wholly as a writer.