The Greeks believed that there were actual physical goddesses that acted as muses for writers and poets. I like to think of the creative part of my brain as my muse. It doesn’t always cooperate. Sometimes I have to trick it.
Dustin Hoffman is famous for his use of method acting. There is a famous story involving the filming of The Marathon Man where Hoffman stayed up for three-days straight right before a scene to mimic the sheer exhaustion of his character in the movie.
I’ll show you method acting, bitch!
Laurence Olivier, considered one of the greatest actors that ever appeared on-screen, asked Hoffman why he looked so tired. Hoffman explained about method acting and reportedly Olivier paused for a moment and then said, “Try acting, you fucking douchebag!”
What does this have to do with writing? How does this help me control my muse? Writers are a curious breed. We’re like finicky cats; each of us has our own methods that work perfectly for us. I have discovered that some of the techniques for method acting help me break into a story if I am having trouble.
My lovely and talented wife Lisa noticed something unusual about my writing habits. If there was a small element tied to a personal experience inserted into the story, it became easier to deal with the more fantastic or complex elements.
Back in 2005 I was having difficulty writing my first Lovecraft Mythos story for an anthology. I loved the universe, but I found it difficult to imagine the sheer terror that Lovecraft described in his own fiction.
My teachers told me to write what I knew. What did I know about cosmic horrors of an unfeeling universe? (Author’s Note: Feel free to insert your own Dick Cheney joke here.)
I’ll give you a personal experience! BWA-HA-HA-HA!
My wife Lisa suggested connecting the story to the Ape Caves at Mount Saint Helens. She had taken a Geology class that summer and we explored a number of interesting geological sites located in the Pacific Northwest.
Something triggered the neurons in my head. The muse was pleased and I was able to connect my own limited experiences to what was happening in the story and it almost wrote itself.
“Geometry of the Soul” was published in Arkham Tales: Stories of the Legendary Haunted City (Call of Cthulhu Fiction) (November 2006).
Method Acting is a series of techniques that help actors identify with their characters. Method Writing is using personal experiences to connect with the fantastic elements in a story. I have never been to moon or seen unknowable cosmic horrors from the edge of reality with the possible exception of my 8th grade math teacher Mr. Hoff.
However, I have collected a series of life experiences and perspectives unique to only myself in the universe that I can share.
I’ve never played in a magical poker game with the deck of cards that was used the night that Wild Bill was shot in Deadwood. I have a feel the pain of being seperated from my child and I have lost loved ones.
I wish I could say that I learned this lesson quickly. It took several years for this concept to properly seep into my conscious and slowly my writing improved. When I reviewed my early work for Twilight Temptations: Tales of Lust, Desire and Magic, it dawned on me that my best stories were the ones that I could relate to on a personal level.
I once wrote a whimsical story titled “What You Need” for a fun zine titled Edge of Propinquity abouta food critic that visits a mystical restaurant that always knows exactly what to serve him. I grounded the story in Seattle by placing it in a familiar location near Pike Place Market. The element that I think works the best is that the main character terribly misses his grandmother that helped raise him. It is something I highly relate to and I managed to share that honest feeling in the word.
“What You Need” has elicited the greatest emotional response from my readers in part it is a situation to which they can relate, even if they weren’t close to their grandmothers. It turns out that the very element that makes it easier to write a story might also be the trick to capturing the hearts of readers.