Lessons Learned

By Boyd Morrison

After four months of living in Los Angeles, taking acting classes and learning about the business side of Hollywood, I head back to Seattle today full of new energy and knowledge. What’s surprising to me is how much of what I learned about acting can be applied both to writing and to life in general.

I’d like to share some of the best words of wisdom I heard while I was in LA. Many of them come either directly or indirectly from my instructor Howard Fine at the Howard Fine Acting Studio. I wish I could take every single class the studio offers, but the foundation I got will serve me for years to come.

I thought about explaining these quotes’ origins and meanings, but I’d rather let them speak for themselves. I hope you find a few that make you look at your life or your writing in a different way.

“I have time.” (Said to yourself before taking on a new endeavor)

“The way you do one thing is the way you do everything.”

“If you can’t change one thing, you can’t change anything.”

“We judge ourselves by our intentions, but we judge others by their actions.”

“Control is a false god; do not pray to it.”

“Creativity does not live in the thinking mind.”

“It’s not who you know; it’s who knows you.”

“The tell of a lie is that the body has no muscle memory.”

“If a relationship is unimportant, the scene is unimportant.”

“Scenes are not about our emotions, but what we can do about our emotions.”

“Desire trumps everything.”

“Characters are in crisis at crossroads in moments of critical decision.”

“Comedy comes from one-hundred-percent investment in a silly issue.”

“Most people ask a question and want an immediate answer; an artist is willing to discover it.”

“You don’t need to be other than who you are, but all of who you are.”

“How we speak is conditioned by how we think we’ll be listened to.”

“You can’t make a mistake by caring too much. You can only make a mistake by not caring.”

“We care about the character in direct proportion to how much the character cares about anything.”

“Nobody wants less investment. The more you invest in the scene, the more the observer will be drawn in.”

“When you are interested, you become interesting.”

“You become self-conscious when your attention is on yourself, not on the other person in the scene.”

“If mistakes humiliate you, you will never create.”

 “Those who are the most present and have the most charisma are the ones who are most alive in their senses.”

“What becomes our truth is a story we tell ourselves over and over.”

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11 thoughts on “Lessons Learned

  1. Sounds like a great experience, Boyd! I’ve always thought it would be worthwhile for writers to take acting lessons, to explore the expression of a character’s emotions. I’m in LA, so I will check out those classes, thanks for sharing!

  2. Thanks for these, Boyd. A few comments:

    “Desire trumps everything.”

    I presume he’s talking about characters here, and that would be pretty much true. A strong desire line, in acting and in writing, is critical.

    “Characters are in crisis at crossroads in moments of critical decision.”

    Yes. I like to say that true character is revealed in crisis, so that’s what fiction should be about.

    “Comedy comes from one-hundred-percent investment in a silly issue.”

    Agree again. I put it this way: the characters in the comedy must think they are in a tragedy…over something trivial. Every Seinfeld episode is like this.

    “You don’t need to be other than who you are, but all of who you are.”

    I like it. Writing is also an act of discovery….for the writer.

    “We care about the character in direct proportion to how much the character cares about anything.”

    Yes. Strong desires and yearnings.

    “Nobody wants less investment. The more you invest in the scene, the more the observer will be drawn in.”

    Although….the best acting lesson I ever learned was to pull back 25% in the big emotional moments. It’s too easy to overact, to “over invest.” I used to do workshops with actors studying “The Method” (and learning it badly) and it was usually a disaster.

    • Hey Jim, I see we’re both going to be teaching at Writer’s Digest West this fall. I think by over-investing you might mean over-emoting–that is, reacting to a situation with more emotion than would be truthfully required based on the circumstances. I was taught that real investment is reacting in a scene as that character truthfully would. Bawling like a baby might be too much if you heard your car was totaled–unless, for example, you were a teenage girl who had promised your dad that you wouldn’t drive the car without him.

  3. Your post reminds me of how much I used to love watching “Inside the Actors Studio.” Listening to James Lipton interview actors, esp about how they inhabited characters, always taught me something about novel writing.

  4. Very insightful! As a self proclaimed comedian I would take issue with only one.

    “Comedy comes from one-hundred-percent investment in a silly issue.”

    I would add…OR a one-hundred percent commitment to silliness in a serious issue.

    Great feedback…

  5. Sounds like you had a great experience Boyd. I’ve often thought of taking some acting classes to get just a bit more edge in the audiobooks arena. That’s the bad side of living so far north, too far from the big stuff. But maybe someday.

  6. I found something useful, often profound, in just about every one of these lessons. Thanks for passing them along.

  7. “What becomes our truth is a story we tell ourselves over and over.”

    I’ve often translated that to read “the movie in your head.” And that’s something that can easily take precedence over actual observations and data in the “real” world. In the military, we had recon guys who would go “out there” and see what’s happening.

  8. Thanks so much for sharing these.

    “If mistakes humiliate you, you will never create.”

    I have seen the results of this, and the difficulty of overcoming the need to be perfect!

  9. Another excellent blog post. I have a request. Any chance you could put some Pinterest friendly picture in your posts. I love all your posts and I subscribe. I pin many of them to Pinterest but have run out of pictures to use. There may now be many people sharing your blog in this way. Not trying to tell you how to run your blog, honestly. Just asking for a favour 🙂

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