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Tuesday, 29 December 2009

CPR For Fictional Characters

Lots of elements make up a story: Words. Sentences. Paragraphs (not necessarily in that order...) But there is no formula and no chemical equation:

Words + Sentences= WorSen

As listeners fixate on the lyrics of a song, readers tend to focus on fictional characters as a convenience. It's more accessible than waxing lyrical about plot mechanics and symbolism. The most common question is,'Who's your favourite character?'
Characters are assigned dimensions (such as E.M Forster's famous categorizations of 'flat' and 'round') tonalities (one-note) and shades ('dark', 'light') They are as diverse as people.
As I mentioned in my last post, characters are not people (Soylent Green is). As a writer, they come from you but they are *not* you. I'm not recommending you try spirit channelling as inspiration (Shirley McClaine went there in the late 1980's and wrote books about it) and this is not multiple personality disorder. Consider the following Zen saying:

'You are not the reflection in a mirror and yet, the reflection is you.'

When your reflection is all bad hair day and pimply eruptions, that is not the actual you, just an aspect manifesting at that time: ugly/beautiful, good/evil, etc....all the polarities are correct and present. Often too many words are devoted to physical description. Forget about outsourcing ideas at this stage, now focus on 'in'sourcing.

I am often asked how to breathe life into characters. (Due to my propensity for garlic bread,  I tend to nauseate mine). I never liked that image, as it conjures up dodgy images of life-size inflatable dolls. How do I make my characters stand out? Apart from making all the characters in my next novel, sore thumbs...

A revelation sprang from another creative craft - ACTING. The connection between writing and acting is not new. Shakespeare and Marlowe were actors. Rod Serling once observed that writers are frustrated actors. You may think Mr. Serling spent too time in front of the TV cameras filming 'The Twilight Zone' but he observed that a writer inhabits, 'The hidden auditorium of his skull."

If Serling's imagery sounds too mentally suspect, bear in mind that actors don't have the luxury of conveying the character's thoughts and emotions to the audience as words on pages.  Feelings must be conveyed through succinct action and speech. The message is clear to writers - move out of your characters' headspaces. Write less of "he/she thought/felt/wondered." and more action and precise choice of dialogue.

Watch serious interviews with renowned actors/actresses about their craft. I recommend PBS' excellent Inside The Actor's Studio series. But do not complain that the acting process is contrived. Well then, what are you doing creating people and worlds that don't exist?

1 comment:

septembermom said...

I love Inside the Actor's Studio. It's fascinating to hear actors and directors talk about their craft. Interesting post.

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