I first heard about this book through social media and went to several Barnes & Noble to find it. Once I had it, I chose not to read the book right away because I knew I was going to be taking an acting class.
Instead I waited to read the book while I had a script to work on. This let me put the lessons and ideas into immediate use which is the best way to learn new things.
- How of Behavior
In the beginning she describes a process that she calls the Hows of Behavior. In a nutshell, you go through the script line by line and look at the behavior using the template of - when (this happens), she/he seems to (do this).
One example from the book: “When connecting with Jennifer, he seems to be uncomfortable with intimacy.” (By the way, the whole book uses one script as an example throughout the process.)
This idea really resonates with me because I’ve learned in acting class and in acting books that we don’t do anything until something is done to us.
We don’t get angry on our own - someone makes us angry. We don’t get our feelings hurt on our own - someone hurts our feelings. You get the idea.
You’re asking yourself, line by line, what’s the stimulus and what’s the behavior.
When you’re done going through the entire scene, you will understand the scene so much better if you hadn’t done this process.
- Core Knowledge
The next part of the technique is what she calls Core Knowledge. Think of it as a cross between asking why and creating a backstory.
She gives two methods of creating Core Knowledge: intuitive and linear. Now, my math brain prefers algorithms so I identify with the linear method.
Basically, you go through the Hows of Behavior you just made and ask ‘why’. For example, “Why is he uncomfortable with intimacy?”
You can answer this question any way you like. Let your imagination play. There’s no right or wrong.
You want to come up with an emotional reason for your ‘why’ in the form of a past event. Whatever you chose is fine.
After you have gone through all the hows of behavior, ideally, you will have a Core Knowledge timeline of events from childhood to present hitting all the major age milestones.
It’s important to note that she wants you to write the Core Knowledge as a brief timeline - nothing too long. While using this technique for my class script, I actually found it really helpful to get into the mind of the character.
It’s also really fun to let your imagination wander when creating the story of this character’s life. A lot of acting books talk about ‘doing the work’ and ‘making choices’ - this book and core knowledge made it so easy and fun to do that.
- Emotion with Detail
Another part of the book that I engaged with is what she calls Emotion with Detail.
This is the longest section of the book so I recommend getting a copy for yourself to really grasp what she is talking about.
Emotion with Detail is a process where you verbalize moments from the character’s past as if you were going through it in the present. This concept to me is really cool because if you think about it, we make images in our minds all the time.
When I was writing the Cabin, I could so clearly see what I was trying to convey on the page. Or, when I get lost in a daydream, the thoughts and images are so concise.
The point is that we naturally create a ‘movies’ in our mind. The key here is that it’s our character’s movies, not ours.
She doesn’t want you to use anything from your life. She wants you to make everything up. I connect with this idea because in the past I’ve used substitution in scenes.
And, it never fails that the real life relationship would get strained right before the audition and the substitution was pretty much impossible to use.
But Emotion with Detail is all made up.
So while you journey through the past of your character it’s not connected to anything in your real life. Warner says that once you’ve done all this work, you will know your character inside and out.
I’m still working through the Emotion with Detail on my script but I really see the tremendous value in the work I’ve done so far.
There are other parts of the technique that I haven’t mentioned like Base Human Emotion and Flashes. There are so many nuggets of knowledge that any actor with any background will find value in this technique.
This book is simple, yet powerful and I think that it should be on every actor’s shelf.