Robert De Niro gained 60 pounds to become Jake La Motta. Adrien Brody practiced piano four hours a day for his role in The Pianist. Both actors used method acting techniques to develop lifelike performances.
What does method acting have to do with writing a picture book?
For me? Everything.
I drafted the earliest version of my story last summer while taking a course at UCSD. After numerous revisions of my manuscript, I sent PIRATE LULLABY to several editors. After receiving a handful of rejections, I was lucky enough to receive feedback from the editor who would eventually acquire my manuscript, Frances Gilbert at Doubleday (Penguin Random House). My bedtime book had a pirate theme which Frances liked very much. However, she felt the story needed to be even more pirate-y (my words). Unbeknownst to her, that was easier for me than she could have possibly imagined. You see, the day before Halloween, every one of my facial features decided to mutiny. I couldn’t close my left eye. When I tried to smile, I managed only a lopsided grin. I called my in-laws and they rushed me to the ER because I was convinced that I had had a stroke. After undergoing several tests, I learned that I suffered from Bell’s Palsy, temporary paralysis of the face due to damage or trauma to the facial nerves. Luckily, Bell’s Palsy is reversible and I made a complete recovery, but for several weeks, I had trouble eating and drinking, my speech was slurred and I had to wear a patch to protect the eye that wouldn’t close. I had no plans to dress up for Halloween but I was pretty self-conscious about my paralyzed face so I became a pirate!
The paralysis lasted about a month and I was still wearing the eye patch when I received feedback from Frances. Her encouragement and thoughtful suggestions inspired me to look at my manuscript in a new way. And since I looked like a pirate, I decided to act like a pirate. Pirate speak abounded at my house for the next few weeks. Putting myself in the role, like De Niro and Brody, helped me craft a better story. There was, in fact, a mutiny of sorts. The structure and themes of the original manuscript remained the same, but everything else changed – the plot, the twist, and the language- and all because I learned to think and act like a pirate.
So, me hearties, what exactly am I suggesting? You can use what you know to help give life to your characters, but sometimes, it’s helpful to BE your character, too.
Happy Talk Like A Pirate Day, me