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Is Molly Ringwald Right? Is Writing Like Acting?

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Molly Ringwald of The Breakfast Club fame is publishing fiction now and in today's New York Times she claims that writing and acting share some important similarities. Actors, she says, often compose elaborate back stories for their characters, and that's in effect writing fiction. Not only that, when we read we're acting out the author's words.

I've only acted in college, but I've been a regular theater goer for as long as I've been a published author, and I think her comparisons don't hold up.

You may construct a history of the person you're playing in a movie or play, but it's not a written text whose end is itself, it's imaginary material that's created in service of someone else's text presented in a completely different way: a public performance.

And performance is where acting and writing part ways most dramatically. When I read, I'm visualizing the images offered in the text. Plays and movies are completely different because the visual is already part of the equation. The characters are presented to you in a package created by the playwright, the director, the cinematographer, and the actors themselves. You may be responding to all of that from your own experience and collaborating with it, but you're living with this work in public, with a large group of people around you. Reading, however, is intensely private even if you're doing it on a subway or in a park.

Where writing and acting do intersect is when experienced authors give readings of their own work and make the writing vivid and dramatic. Dickens could apparently set whole audiences weeping. And Ringwald makes an excellent point when she says "A writer will never be able to control entirely how his or her words are read," but she spoils it by adding "just as an actor will never be the one to decide which take will be used." There are finite takes of a scene, but as many versions of a book as there are readers.

I wish her well with her fiction. She's got an excellent platform in her career, and nowadays, that's as important as the book itself, sometimes more so. And I bet she's a sensational reader of her own work, especially since she also gets to direct.