Posted by: Matt Q. McGovern | April 19, 2017

Getting into character

I recently finished reading the book ‘Dropped Names’, by Frank Langella, the accomplished actor.

I’ve always enjoyed the interviews I’ve seen of Frank Langella over the years, particularly his description of the devotion to the craft of acting. This actor with extensive experience of the stage can be very soft-spoken, causing one to listen carefully during his interviews. His voice is easy to listen to, and reading his book was easier still because I could hear him saying the words.

I have written before about my strange habit of flash-reading, or reading for only a minute or so. An activity that is carried about exclusively on the phone, I read Dropped Names over the last two years, mostly in elevators or waiting for the bus. Only recently did I actually sit down at home to read the last of it in a more conventional setting.

Of all the books I’ve read in this very temporary fashion, his was amongst the easiest to pick up where I left off each time I would read. I attribute that to having heard Frank Langella speak before (in a non-acting context) and his book being written in a way that very closely matched his speaking style.

This got me thinking about the importance of reading your writing out loud. Each reader that reads your book will have a natural reading voice in their head, whichever it is. Obviously we would all hope our writing does this naturally for readers. Reading a few scenes out loud in different voices (our own voice but with different inflections) might give us a better idea of how our story sounds.

I wonder now if Frank Langella, or some other voices I can think of, have read fiction professionally. Having a favorite voice or two would be good to keep in mind while you’re reading your own writing out loud; it may cause you to change your writing to benefit it.

There were other observations I made from the book that pertain to writing. Frank spoke about various approaches to acting as well as giving many brief but poignant profile descriptions of people who interacted with this deep craft. It’s easy, as a result of the reading, to start thinking of the craft that pertains to writing and the various approaches there are, as well as thinking of the best approaches to the industry of writing.

Overall, I took from this book an underlying theme of “how to act”, as in how to act in a certain situation as opposed to on the stage or behind the camera. This comes from Frank as well as a number of people he talks about and I can easily parlay that to my own thoughts on writing.

I would recommend this book to any writer that likes a book that’s not about writing per se, but one that easily gets them thinking of it.

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