Over spring break, my sister, her friend, and I went to a panel in the NYC Public Library for the Teen Author Festival entitled "The Ties that Bind." It was broken up into a couple of different sections, but the one I'm talking about involved darkness in YA literature.
One of the questions that the moderator, David Levithan, asked was whether the darkness in the books had any direct relation to darkness in real life that the authors had experienced. One of the authors, I believe it was Robin Wasserman, said that she felt that writing was a little like method acting. In order to portray a character, both in acting and in writing, the writer/actor has to be able to relate in some basic way to that character. Robin explained that if you have to write a scene in which the main character's mother is dead, but your mother is alive and well and calling you on the phone every day, relate the scene to something else, like when your goldfish died, some experience that matches the character's experience in some little way so that you can understand this point of view.
The other authors on the panel agreed with this (Maggie Stiefvater got a huge laugh by saying that she has never dated a werewolf, so she related the events in her books to the time she dated a vampire instead), and I do as well. It makes the characters' experiences more real. Thinking about characterization this way is why I am a terrible actor - I have trouble presenting bits and pieces of myself like that in a physical sense - but I do think it makes me a better writer.
It does not make the writing any easier. In fact, I'd say it makes it harder - you have to give bits of you, bits you wouldn't necessarily share with anyone else, to fuel your characters' emotions and reactions. You have to dig deep, and sometimes it hurts, but it is so, so worth it in the end, I think.
Granted, there are times when this method doesn't quite work. Obviously none of us have ever dated a werewolf. This is where my other writing method, the "research the heck out of absolutely everything" method, comes in very handy. Read articles and folktales and other books about werewolves if your story includes it. Writing about romance and have no idea what you're doing? Borrow your friend's romance novels and watch video clips like this one from musicals on repeat. Don't know what it feels like to run around in historical costumes? Email somebody who does.
What do you think about the method writing idea? Anybody out there a method writer?