5 Things Acting Taught Me About Writing

Most writers have day jobs, which feed into their writing. Every Friday I’ll be asking a writer what unexpected lessons their day job has taught them about the craft.


Today, I asked actor, children's author and screenwriter Jenn Daugherty what being on screen has taught her about writing on the page.

Jenn Daugherty is one half of the creative team of Uncanny Entertainment. With her husband, director and writer Phillip Hughes, the two have just completed their first feature comedy, The Merry Maids of Madness. The film won the Audience Choice Award at both The Chicago Comedy Film Festival and AFME 2016. Chicago Comedy also awarded the film Best Feature and the Second City Harold Ramis Film School combined with CCFF awarded Jenn the Top Female Filmmaker Award 2016 for her work as screenwriter. Since graduating from The University of New Mexico with a degree in theater and film, Jenn has been working with Uncanny Entertainment and others on short films, web series and her first collection of short stories and poems, "The Children of Eldritch Lane". Her new book, "The Doldrums," will be coming out early 2017.


Lesson #1 : Get things on their feet.

Every actor knows that the read through really isn’t where the work lies. Characters need to get up on their feet. Dialogue needs to be tested in a dynamic environment. The same goes for writing. There are many days where my office becomes my stage as I act out the last scene I’ve just written. I call it my “stupid dialogue killer.”

Lesson #2 : Sometimes bad writing is the best teacher.

As an actor, I would be lying to say that every piece I have been a part of was a work of genius. But I appreciated those opportunities as much as the good parts I got to play. This was for one simple reason—not getting many favors done for me on the page made me adamant about one thing. My scripts would have the characters that actors wanted to play.


Now, if my husband and I find ourselves watching a bad movie and not completely writing it off at the end, we ask each other where we thought it went wrong and how it could have been more effective. I think some of the most important lessons in life can be learned from mistakes, both our own and others.


Lesson #3 : Readings and workshopping can elevate a show more than any other thing I know.

But that point explains itself.

Lesson #4 : Humanity is at its most potent when it comes from our pure animal tendencies.

Most motivations aren’t intellectual -- they’re emotional.

Lesson #5 : The importance of the art of surprise.

In both my writing and my acting I have found one sure way to be successful. Surprise people. If you’re writing something make sure it’s like nothing they’ve ever read before. If you’re acting, play that character like only you can play it. Because if you can surprise people like that then they’ll most likely come back for more.


Thanks to Jenn for today's post! Any valuable lessons you've learned from your day job?

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