Thursday, August 28, 2014

We've all heard of method acting, where actors live and breathe the characters they play for the duration of filming, even when the lights and cameras are off. But what about method writing? Does such a thing exist?

Allow me to answer that with a story.

A story about johnnycakes.

Mormon Johnnycakes, to be exact.

For those who do not know what a Mormon Johnnycake is, it's basically dense, sugarless cornbread. And not the fluffy kind either, more flatbread-esque. Quick trivia: this particular variety received the name "Mormon" because many Mormons traveling west in the nineteenth-century would partake of johnnycakes on the trail, as long as they had a source of fresh buttermilk to use in cooking. The food was, of course, not exclusive to them, but rather originated with the Native Americans. As for why it's called a johnnycake, there's some disagreement on the etymology. One camp says it was African American slang for an Indian corn cake; others think it's derived from Shawnee cake.

No crazy writers were harmed in the taking of this photo.
Now, being that I am currently writing a novel set in the American Old West, I've been rather obsessed with all things relating to that time period. I've read books, listened to music from that era (allow me to recommend this rendition of The Old Chisholm Trail; you're welcome for that ear worm), received a replica Marshal's badge for a gift, and even bought a hat (seen: right). Because of course.

What can I say? When I commit to learning about a historical time period, I commit. (I also end up watching a lot of Hell on Wheels and Deadwood but I digress.)

Add to my obsession with the Old West my newly discovered love of baking and you have a recipe for... well, food. I thought it would be fun to try to make something that my main character would have ostensibly eaten while out and about, and settled on the johnnycakes since they seemed relatively simple to make. And they were.

Mormon Johnnycakes, as made by me
Unfortunately, they also tasted terrible. Well. Terrible is a strong word. They were edible. With butter. A lot of butter. To be fair, I have a rather... let us say, distinguishing palette. So they were probably fine, and I was just being picky. But still. I am not a pioneer. I am spoiled by modern day preservatives and corn syrup. Sweet, sweet corn syrup.

Which brings me back to the title and topic of this blog post. Method writing.

When I get really into a story, I like to get to know my main characters as best as possible. I get intimate with them (not like that, get your mind out of the gutter), trying to understand their every facet and what makes them tick. Sometimes this close empathy bleeds over into real life, either inspiring fashion choices or prompting me to bake horrible cornbread. But this is one of the things I enjoy most about writing: the opportunity to experience things I wouldn't normally experience. Feel things I wouldn't normally feel. Think about the world in a slightly different way. And be grateful I don't have to subsist on johnnycakes (my MC is much tougher than I am!).

I don't ever go as deep as most method actors, thankfully. I'd probably lose my marbles, and they're in short enough supply as is, but getting to take my story/characters into the real world with me even in such a small way is great fun, and I like to think it also helps me add authenticity to my writing when I finally return to my own fictional nook.

How about you? Do you indulge in any kind of method writing? Do you find your characters' likes, dislikes, or habits ever bleeding over into your own?


  1. I think there's often an element of method writing. And for my current WIP there certainly is. The MC bakes cupcakes, so I've been trialling all the flavours she does. The teachers at my daughter's school are LOVING it.

    1. I bet they do! That sounds like some delicious method writing right there! I'm glad to see I'm not the only one whose muse inspires them to bake! ;)

      What's been your favorite flavor so far?

  2. This post is both educational and hilarious. Gold star for you ;)

    I always love how you immerse yourself in the atmosphere of whatever you're writing about! For me, the most important thing in getting myself into the right mindset for whatever I'm writing is trying to find the right music to create the atmosphere I'm looking for. Unfortunately, if I only have one song that fits a certain mindset, that means I sometimes have to listen to it on repeat until I'm not sure I ever want to hear it again... but whatever works!

    1. Yay, go me! ;)

      I tooootally know what you mean about finding the right musical atmosphere. I've ruined many a song doing that, too. I have a whole playlist for Corkscrewed that I can barely listen to now because I played through it so much this past year. xD But the right music can make all the difference in putting you in the mood for a scene!