HOW TO CREATE STAGE PRESENCE
Stage presence is a very difficult thing to achieve, especially in writing. First, the question comes up: what is stage presence? Think of it this way: if you’ve seen the Dark Knight with Heath Ledger, then you know stage presence. Every time he’s on the screen, there’s a heavy feeling that comes – the whole what-the-heck-is-he-about-to-do kinda’ thing.
Another example would be Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada. Whenever she’s on the set, your attention falls directly on her. Tyrion Lanister from A Song of Ice and Fire has a strong stage presence, as do all of the Laninsters, in my opinion – probably his father more so. Anyway, you get the point. Stage presence is the ability to take the spotlight.
CREATE STAGE PRESENCE
Creating stage presence is not so simple, however. Since the character with the stage presence takes the spotlight, he’d better not screw it up. There’s nothing worse than a spotlight-stealer who is a terrible waste of words.
I read a book (one that I won’t name for obvious reasons), but there was a character who was cursed and turned into a wandering wolf. The wolf talks and everything, but the way he talked just bothered me. I was ready to get through the scenes with him in it, and I just hoped that I’d never see him again.
Stage presence is sly and unique. It brings the reader new emotions that are separate from the scene itself. In Hounded, the first book in the Iron Druid Chronicles, there is a dog who can communicate via psyche to his master. This dog has great stage presence because he does and thinks exactly like we’d expect a dog to act. But he does it at times when the main character is trying to focus on something serious.
See how the serious is broken up by the humor? Two conflicting emotions caused by the character who upstages the main in a smooth unintrusive way.
Here’s a makeshift example of stage presence. I won’t be able to incorporate all of the elements from above, but here’s a character whom we want to know more about. Let’s put the setting somewhere in the 1600s.
Malus Bayne, a man of darkness and blades, sat at the market during sunset watching men haggle over prices while women in dusty white bonnets scolded their children. His hood covered his eyes, suspicious, but he didn’t care. Not one person dared give him a second glance, knowing that he’d been sent by the magistrate to do his justice. And one of those haggling men or scolding women…one of them was certainly going to die.
See how the mood of the person on the set determines the reader’s intrigue. The way that a person with stage presence is written shows that even the author has a certain opinion about the character. In this case, Malus is not someone to be reckoned with, because he is the one who is to bring the reckoning.
Keep in mind that stage presence can be usurped by a weak or shaky line, something that twists the emotion into something that it originally wasn’t intended to be.
Try to put yourself in that character’s mood. As crazy as it sounds, ask yourself some questions. What if you’d been sent to kill these people? What things would be going through your head? Surely all killers, assassins or not, aren’t cold-blooded killers. They may kill in cold blood, but certainly there are feelings about it.
Also, you may want to try to figure out what would be the “X” factor. What would be the one thing that would keep Malus from doing his job? Does he not kill around children? Is this his hometown, and he doesn’t kill people he knows?
These answers don’t have to come up in this scene at all, but it allows you as the writer to understand Malus from his perspective. Because even if he doesn’t kill with children around, he may still kill someone in this scene. What does that say about Malus? It says that there was some force behind him, compelling him to do the one thing that he never thought he would do.
These questions truly help to create a strong stage presence so that when readers interact with your characters, the reader feels emotionally invested.