I had a bit of a rough play practice last night. When I got on stage I couldn't remember my character! It wasn't like I hadn't been studying my script -I had. It was just that as soon as I stood up to practice, I blanked out. I wasn't a retired Centurion's wife, I was Grace Clay fumbling around.
Acting skills and writing skills are closely related. In both cases the characters have to stay in character, even if all they do is walk across the stage. And in both cases, you can blank out and completely forget what the character you're trying to portray is like. It's really frustrating, and humiliating. If you're on stage you go `oh no! I'm a rotten actor! Everyone is probably looking at me in a funny way!' And if you're writing you go `oh no! I'm a rotten author! Everyone will think I'm a hack who never made it through English 101!'
If I blank out on a character while writing, I find it helpful to re-read what I've written and look for establishing moments. That can often be enough to get me thinking like the character again.
Sometimes the problem is that I'm trying to be too many people at the same time. In that case, layering can help- that is, writing out the basic scene between two or more characters, then layering in another character (remembering to have the previous characters react to them) and keep doing it until all the characters are in the scene.
And of course, there are always those days where I've just had a busy week and didn't get enough sleep. The nice thing about that is, as soon as I rest up, the problem goes away.
As for my acting, hopefully sleep and practice will solve the problem. If not, I can always smack myself with the script a few times and hope something sinks in.
So how about you all? Any favorite tricks for when a character just... isn't themselves?