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Storytelling - Acting versus Writing

I love stories.

I love diving into fictional worlds and falling in love with these characters, watching their story play out. As an actor, I learned that I absolutely adored taking one character and bringing their situation to life. I loved exploring the highs and lows of their emotions, and the chemistry and dynamics that blossom under the freedom of pretense and the knowledge that there were no consequences to the biting remarks and world-rending confessions spoken in your voice by someone who isn't you. That rush of excitement before I step out onto a stage, that jolt of joy when the audience bursts into unexpected applause, and the sense of satisfaction when a show runs smoothly, all of that is beautiful, but to me,the best feeling in the world is a hard to define moment after the show, when your eyes scan the audience and read the faces you find behind the blinding stage lights. Recently, I discovered a new understanding of what exactly that feeling was.

Years ago, I fell in love with the TV series Doctor Who. I loved the characters and the stories, the adventures and the heartbreaks and all of the twists and turns that kept me rooted to my seat, eyes glued to my screen in anticipation. When I'd watched all there was to see of the current series, I hungered for more information. I had so many questions and quanderies about these characters I'd come to know and love, and so I sought out new stories. These came in the form of fanfiction, and I dived into that world headfirst. I even started writing some myself, which I now would never read again, but at the time I enjoyed. I developed a style and a story structure, and along the way, a small readership.

A short while into my writing career (which at that point consisted of soppy romances that were 1000 words long) I had an idea. It was an old classic sci-fi trope, but it interested me, and so I decided that I wanted to tell a story about the operating system on a space ship becoming sentient. But I didn’t consider myself a good enough writer to create the whole thing from scratch, so it became one of my fanfictions, with real people inserted into this fictional world. I wrote and posted this story, which was quite a bit longer than my standard works, and it didn’t really take off like some of the others. This didn't phase me, though; fanfic is subjective at best and self-serving occasionally. Eventually, I forgot about it completely.

A couple of years later, I went back and reread it on a whim. To my surprise, I found that I was actually quite proud of it. It was interesting, fairly suspenseful and heartwarming, it had the potential to be heartbreaking with a little bit of tinkering, and the base premise of it was a twist on that old cliche, something new and completely mine. Unfortunately, these people I’d slotted into place didn’t really fit the story I wanted to tell. It needed a full cast of completely new characters, and that was a daunting idea. Characters are complex, multi-leveled beings that take intensive planning and building and documenting, and my attention span is comparable to that of a goldfish. But the idea just wouldn't leave me alone, it wouldn't let me sleep. I needed to tell it.

So, I wrote a document. Over the next few months, that document became a folder, and that folder became a folder and a notebook full of research notes, and that folder and notebook became a folder, a notebook, and a little group of Beta readers, and finally, in August of this year, that folder, notebook, and reader group became a seventy-five page, fully fleshed out, real, honest-to-God book, which was published on Amazon and has to date been bought by ten whole people, including my mother. The reviews are glowing.

I was so proud. I cried when I held that first printed copy in my hands and I wouldn't shut up about this story for anything, telling everyone I knew about the characters and their motivations, the world they live in and their backgrounds, the technology that doesn't exist. I'd done so much research, and I was thrilled when people asked minute, searching questions and focused on details I'd worked hard to learn and incorporate. I was having a wonderful time with my little indie book, and I realized a striking similarity between this feeling of reading messages from my small pool of readers and those faces in the lights.

My job as an actor has always been to focus on retelling one specific character’s story. I interact with and play off of other people to build the worlds I inhabit on stage, but they are not my worlds. They are worlds I visit and explore. As a writer, I was telling everyone’s story, all the way through. I am the cartographer, running through these uncharted lands and hoping to share my findings with other people. In both cases, it is the sharing that excites me. It is that trading of perspectives and inspirations, an ebb and flow of emotion and understanding. I found that in writing, I can love something so deeply that it becomes real enough to share with other people and have them love it in return and share something equally important with me. This conversation about the story is the best feeling in the world.

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