Saturday, November 5, 2016

From the Writer's Studio: Characters

Characters in a story, novel, script...what have you, must fit together like intricately locked puzzle pieces, each boasting their own complicated shapes and surface color patterns. Even in tales that do not feature an ensemble cast, the primary character must be defined by the parameters of his or her reality and the other persons / characters, however limited in number, which he or she interacts with.

I find that where many scripts and films fail, is due to the writer, and subsequently, the director, not fully grasping the nature of the infrastructure that he or she has designed. Honestly, who hasn't found it super-frustrating to watch a film where all the characters are defined by their basic bio, or worse, their employment, and not WHO THEY ARE as people. The term usually applied is "cardboard characters", and for good reason, they are flimsy and disposable, cut from a ready-made mold. This is not to disparage banging the archetype gong, for surely, Neo as Jesus-Buddha, or the almost ancient mythological epic arch of the Star Wars reality are not to be trifled with.

At this point, I have either created, or co-created, a vibrant array of characters numbered literally in the multiple hundreds, and I have set them in the dozens and dozens of universes I have likewise constructed, along with the developing episodic story architecture or act structure of the work. I possess a great affection for the vast majority of them, and I often imagine what one of them would do in a given situation versus another character, sometimes even swapping out incompatible universes in my mind. 

Characters should have a life of their own. As a writer you should find yourself quoting them as if you overheard something they said in the past, and that you find clever and fresh upon remembering it.

Is that nuts on some level? Sure. Without a doubt. But, if you are the god of your universes, then, at least for me, I am a god who allows characters to grow organically once their seed is planted. Likewise, I expect the character to experience further growth when an actor contributes his or her input in executing the creature in the visual medium.

Let's look at a simple example. There is a spider scurrying across a table top. Why is it scurrying? What is he or she thinking about? Is there an insect on the table top that he or she is hunting? Is there another spider he or she wishes to mate with, or is fleeing from? How old is the spider? What brought it to this point? Is he or she the last of his or her brothers and sisters? And, most importantly, what is the temperament of the spider. Clearly, the spider is not just a spider, but you get the idea. Don't focus on the fact that the spider is a spider, we all know that!

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