Therapist Helps Writers to Infuse Characters with Life

Many actors use Method acting techniques to learn everything they can about the characters they play’their backstory, motivations, desires and dreams. ”In Rachel Ballon’s book, ‘Breathing Life Into Your Characters,’ she advocates that writers can use ‘method writing’ to make their characters more alive, interesting and well-rounded and therefore improve the quality of their fiction, plays or screenplays. ”Ballon will speak about her method on Thursday, March 18 at 7:30 p.m. at Village Books, 1049 Swarthmore. ”Ballon is a psychotherapist as well as a writing consultant and writer, who has integrated her two careers in the book, using psychotherapy techniques to help writers create three-dimensional characters and also using writing exercises to help clients delve more deeply into themselves. ”The book, her fourth about writing, is sprinkled with writing exercises and examples of memorable characters from recent works such as Alice Sebold’s ‘The Lovely Bones’ and Jonathan Franzen’s ‘The Corrections,’ as well as classics such as Henrik Ibsen’s ‘A Doll’s House.’ ”For example, for method writing, she offers an exercise for writers to do freewriting (fast, stream-of-consciousness writing with no concern about grammar, spelling or punctuation) about a sensory memory that relates to a feeling within one of their characters. In turn, they are better able to give their characters genuine emotion from their own experience. ”’You have to go back to emotional memories to infuse characters with emotion,’ Ballon says. ”For example, one writer she worked with couldn’t connect to his own vulnerability. ‘As a child he was not allowed to cry, and his characters were very one-dimensional,’ Ballon says. She had him write about the time he had wanted to cry and was reprimanded so he could re-experience the emotions of it. Then she had him write the same scenario again but change the ending, to say ‘I am going to cry.’ ‘It helped him get in touch with love and softness. His characters could express love and vulnerability. He couldn’t have done it if he hadn’t worked through it,’ Ballon says. ‘It takes it out of the head and into the heart, past the unconscious. From there come the most honest and the most passionate stories.’ ”Ballon has a private therapy practice in Westwood, where she often uses writing as a tool with clients. ‘Writing helps get rid of never-ending stories or unresolved conflicts in a person’s life.’ ”A Brentwood resident, Ballon became a therapist after being inspired by a course that she took at UCLA in using poetry as a therapeutic tool. She began using poetry with children and older people and found what a potent tool it was in helping them express feelings. ”A teacher at UCLA Extension and USC School of Cinema and Television, Ballon has also written for television and film. Go to www.rachelballon.org.