The Hot-Seat

By: Jake Arnott

Exercises / All / Characterisation, Dialogue, Generating ideas, Igniting the imagination, Off the page, Research, Starting to write, Subject, Unfolding scenes, Writing a novel

This follows from the above tip and is another actor’s exercise and one that works in a group setting. This is perfect if you are part of a writers’ group or even an informal assembly of people that are working on something. For those of you on your own, try and coax a friend or friends to play the part of interrogator.

The exercise is known as ‘hot-seating’ and it’s very simple. Each participant takes a turn at being in the hot seat –sitting in front of the group in character and answering questions posed by the group, as their character, for five minutes. I’ve tried this with many groups now and it’s always astonishing what it unlocks in terms of material and, most importantly, the ‘voice’ of the character. Remember, it’s not an acting challenge, it does not matter how well you ‘perform’ – it’s how your character feels that’s important and what they know of life. This is how you can find out what their story really is.

Make sure that you’re supportive of each other. Have someone on the stopwatch but have that Mastermind rule of ‘I’ve started so I’ll finish’ if one of the questions risks being cut off by the time limit. And, as a group, make sure your questions are useful and open-ended.  Once you have established the basic detail of the subject you can try to get to the heart of them: ‘Are you in love?’ ‘Do you have a secret’ ‘What do you fear most?’ etc. Keep it playful but remember this is serious play. Be sensitive to each other so that you can really investigate each character in depth.

When everyone has had their turn take about 20 minutes at least to make notes on your own. Take time to come out of character so that you can bring back some of the treasure you might use as a writer. The great thing about this exercise is that it can produce a great deal raw text that you can directly apply to whatever you are working on. Have some time to feedback as group at the end.


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