Writing with Meisner

I usually don’t write up workshops. They’re run by one single person, and the content is theirs. But, I *have* to gush about the titular workshop with Ian Kirkpatrick at Imaginarium2021.

The description was as follows: Meisner is an acting method with the focus of staying in the moment and responding to present circumstances. By applying the basics of Meisner, authors can resolve or worsen the conflict, build deep characters, and avoid plot holes while staying dynamic, present, and responsive in their manuscript.

Because this was a presentation, I’m not going into full depth, but it made an impact on me, so let me just talk a little about it, and if you get the opportunity, and this method appeals to you, I highly recommend this presentation/workshop.

The Three Tenets of the Meisner Method

1. Emotional Preparation

Be they a main character, a secondary character, or a tertiary character: where is the character coming from (their background, where they were physically, their emotional state, etc) and where are they going to after they leave the scene?

2. Repetition

In acting, this is an exercise with another actor, repeating each other’s phrases with different emphasis and characterization.

When writing, instead of writing by pretending to be someone you’re not, take that emotional preparation, and evaluate your character’s dialogue and responses, over and over again, until you can sort out the attitude and feel of your character. And you know exactly how to respond to the previous sentence.

3. Improvisation

Based on what you know of the character from the emotional preparation, and due to the insight into the character’s attitude from the repetition and deep-dive, follow your instincts and improvise how the character will respond.

Morgan’s Thoughts on Writing With Meisner

THIS! That whole, “based on what you know of the character — who they are, where they come from, what state they’re in now, and what their attitude is… reason out what they would do next, in this situation. Be it dialogue, action, or mental gymnastics.”

It was so refreshing to hear someone teach how I write, and to meet others who use this technique, even if we didn’t know that’s what we were doing.

Sure, there are tons of methods to write (and to act), and we all have to use what works best for us, for this story. But, I can’t say I hate external validation.


How do you write? Do your characters speak to you? Does your imagination play out like a movie in your head? Do you follow meticulous notes and outlines? Or do you logic and reason your way through your imagination, like I do?

2 Comments

  1. Absolutely. Know who your characters are… and no cardboard villains. Most real live villains don’t think of themselves that way.

    And you can use “spare time” to work on those characters. My late wife and I, driving four or six hours to see her mother (this was Texas…), would discuss characters. We had two (very future) bikers, who only show up in two or three chapters out of a 205k word story, but I know their life histories. They’re real.

    Liked by 1 person

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