How Acting Improved My Writing

How Acting Improved My Writing

by Cody Wagner

So I’ve been jumping back into theater lately. I’m not bragging or anything. I mean, I’m a really awful actor. Just awful. I actually wrote a character in my novel who auditions for a play and everyone laughs at him – and he’s based on me.

Anyway, now that I’m reading through scripts and trying to remember what various acting teachers have told me, I realize that acting can really improve my writing. How? It all comes down to this:

Making Choices in Life

I once heard a director say, “I’d rather someone make bad choices in acting than none at all.”

That saying really stuck with me. The one thing I’ve learned from all my acting lessons is that choices are everything. If you think about real life, everything we say and do is about a choice. Do we choose to hurt someone with a comment? Or maybe sweet talk them with that same comment? The choices we make in moments determine how we speak and behave.


The same concept is poured into good acting. Actors who are truly amazing are the ones who make bold choices. Look at Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada (did I just out myself by bringing up this movie)? She chose to play the role very calmly. Although she’s kind of a slave driver, she doesn’t yell or scream at her employees. Instead, everything is cool and calculated. And, man, it works so well. She experimented with a choice, and it really paid off.

The same goes for Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean. The director actually hated the odd way Depp played Jack Sparrow, but Depp’s bold choices made the movie. He presented us with a unique, deep, strange character we couldn’t help but take an interest in.

Making Choices for Our Characters

The same concept should go into our writing: our characters should make bold choices that make them unique.

I’ve always said good writing is character driven. Why? Well, most of us have been the same kinds of milestones in life (breakups, marriages, layoffs, etc…) that our characters experience. It’s how we, as individuals, deal with those milestones that make our stories unique. The way I handle a breakup (watching romantic comedies on repeat while sobbing) will be different than someone else, who might scream and throw dishes. Similarly, I want characters in novels to feel real, and that means they have quirks, flaws, strengths, and everything in between. Seeing bold character choices in writing is what makes novels stand out, in my opinion.


Now that I’ve talked about how acting helps writing, I also have to say the converse is true: writing has also helped my acting. Honestly, they feed into each other. I now find that when I sit down to write, I’m thinking about the unique actions my characters can take as they act across the page. Just as when I’m on stage, I’m thinking about how a character was written and what I can do to bring him to life.

OK so, after this exciting post, who wants to get onstage and audition now? No one? Hello? Hello? Is this thing on?

Cody Wagner loves to sing, mime (not really), and write. His award-winning debut novel, The Gay Teen’s Guide to Defeating a Siren, recently “came out.” See what he did there? Check out his writing and see more of his wackiness at, or find him on Twitter (@cfjwagner), Goodreads, and Amazon.

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1 Response to How Acting Improved My Writing

  1. This item resonated with me, because I am a retired college professor who enjoys writing…and acting…in my autumn years. The message here is so valid. Although I don’t “act” (or write) for a living, I try to do my best at both, and this blog really nails it.


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