The best acting [comes when] you do it as if this is the last scene. There is no scene that follows. I've always thought that notion of 'You need to know where you're going' is a misnomer. I think better to not know where where you're going, and television is the perfect grounds for that. Just do this scene and then see where it goes. See where they write you next.Can I say how much I love this quote? I mean, seriously. William H. Macy is so insightful and I don't think he means to be.
In this interview, he's talking about his new show Shameless. (Season 2 has just started so this is an older interview.) Shameless is a show that my friend Marianna introduced me to--and I love it. It's about the dysfunctional family of Frank Gallagher, a single father of six children. While he spends his days drunk, his kids learn to take care of themselves. It's full of intense, unsuspecting, wonderfully developed characters and a story that you can't really predict. Honestly, I don't really want to.
This is great writing.
Why? Because we're telling someone else's story when we write. Even if you know a character, how much do you really know? Do you know every single detail of his or her life? Do you? Because I don't think I do. I know what he or she wants to me know. I know what I need to know in order to tell the story. My characters rarely tell me everything. They like to surprise me in the best ways possible.
That's why I like William H. Macy's quote. Let's just tweak it so it applies to WRITING someone's story, instead of acting.
The best writing [comes when] you do it as if this is the last scene. There is no scene that follows. I've always thought that notion of 'You need to know where you're going' is a misnomer. I think better to not know where where you're going, and each chapter is the perfect grounds for that. Just do this scene and then see where it goes. See where the characters write you next.Even if I didn't change those words, I still think this is solid advice. Since I am more of a pantser, it's just affirmation that you CAN write as you go and tell a remarkable story. You can know the basics of a character or a story and that can lead you. Sometimes it's overwhelming because the reasons you think a character did something may end up not being the real reason--and then you have to figure out what to tweak and move and how to explain away the first reaction. However, this is the thing that makes our characters more relateable: We don't always know the REAL reason for our actions. I believe our characters are the same.
I'm currently on this "I want great characters" kick in my television. Shameless is another prime example of a show that does characters--as well as story!--really well. I'm invested in all of them. It's a great study for a writer to figure out how and why characters work. And if you're like me and love TV, then it's even better. I think TV shows have some of the best developed characters.
If you're in the mood for a gritty, oddly humorous show with great actors, characters and writing--and you don't mind a little rated-R ness in your show--then you should check out Shameless. (I should add that it does contain issues of addiction and sex, so it's not for everyone. You should consult ratings, etc if you're someone who doesn't like that stuff before you watch it.)
Whether you watch it or not, remember what William H. Macy says. "Just do this scene and then see where it goes." Characters are leading, and we're all just following along. Mostly.
What are some characters that you love? Can you tell me why??