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Outside In: Character as Verb – a Workshop for Writers

April 19, 2017



In his text Building a Character, famed theatre practitioner Constantin Stanislavski writes:

“At the beginning of our lesson I told Tortsov, the Director of our school and theatre, that I could comprehend with my mind the process of planting and training within myself the elements necessary to create character, but that it was still unclear to me how to achieve the building of that character in physical terms. Because, if you do not use your body, your voice, a manner of speaking, walking, moving, if you do not find a form of characterization which corresponds to the image, you probably cannot convey to others its inner, living spirit.”

Of course, Stanislavski is speaking of the physicality of the actor portraying a character on stage, but I believe his statement is likewise true of a writer portraying a character on the page. Writers must convey images of their characters – how they move, speak and walk – if they are to reveal to readers the inner, living spirit of the characters they create. Most writers understand this as “show, don’t tell,” yet many still wonder how exactly to accomplish this in their narrative.

Stanislavski then asks Tortsov how to achieve the external characterization, and Tortsov responds that it is most often generated by the actor once the “right inner values have been established.” This was the accepted technique at the time, which represents the creation of characters from the inside out. You decide who the character is, and then portray him accordingly.

As the chapter goes on, however, Stanislavski and Tortsov begin to alter their own physical characteristics by choosing specific clothing, demeanors, and speech patterns, which revealed a technique for external character development they had not considered before. We look at this as the creation of character from the outside in.

For actors, either method is acceptable and many performers use a combination of both. The same is true in writing as well. A writer can assign philosophical and spiritual beliefs, personality traits, and behaviors, and then develop corresponding physical features and qualities of movement. Or they might simply be inspired by the external, as I often am. I see a person in real life, a character on the street or in a coffee shop and, lacking any background information, I create a fictional character based on the physical traits I’m able to observe. This works well for me, since I write almost exclusively character-driven fiction.

My daughter Patricia Walker and I have developed a technique, a tool writers can use in the immediate process of writing, to analyze, embody and convey characters who live and breathe on the page. Since I started using the technique, my own writing has taken new shape, expanding both actively and visually. I can physically embody characters, which helps me move the action forward and create authentic and unique dialogue. I am able to analyze my work to make sure there is a fully developed and well-rounded cast of characters. I can identify the core dynamic of each character, and assign them a specific, descriptive verb that I refer to when I need to convey emotion or intent through physical action. I can show, rather than tell the reader, everything they need to know about who the character is as a human being.

Patti’s experience as a professionally trained actor and university instructor makes her uniquely qualified to present the program we call Outside In: Character as Verb to writers of all skill levels. My experience as a successful author of character-driven Southern fiction helps me apply the concepts of stage movement to the written word. We are available as a team to present this dynamic and exciting new two-hour craft workshop for writers.

If you are in the Calhoun, Georgia area, we’ll be presenting this program at the 2017 Northwest Georgia Writers Conference May 19-20.  Go to for more information.

To request information about hosting a workshop, please go to and use the contact page.




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