Tag Archives: characters

Mirror, mirror on the wall …

Who is the fairest of them all?  If you’re an actor, anyone with access to a good make-up artist.   We take for granted that the people on the small screens in our living rooms or on the big screens in our cinemas are wearing make-up.  They’ve got to look perfect for the camera.  That’s what’s the audience expects but is it what they need, when the character being portrayed should look more like the person next door.

More and more female actors are refusing to wear make-up.  Sarah Lancashire in the UK crime drama series, “Happy Valley” appears without foundation just like any middle-aged policewoman might do in real life, when there’s more important things than lip gloss, like finding the killer or preventing a murder.

As Sheila Hancock pointed out in the MailOnline recently, more and more women actors “hardly wear any make-up at all and that’s why it looks so real.” She goes on to say “the public won’t notice that.” And she’s right, they won’t, because if it’s a good drama, they’ll be concentrating on the film but subconsciously it will filter through the different layers of the story telling. It will have a greater impact on the audience, on their emotions, and on their empathy for the character and long after the lights have gone up in the cinema and the TV screen gone blank, a small spark will keep the memory of what they’ve seen alive.

We still need heroes today, to look up to and emulate, whether they’re fictional or not.  However, when those heroes are coated in layers of make-up, with not a hair or eyelash out of place, how can you have anything in common with them and therefore how can the story have any real meaning?  Good stories should ripple out into our lives.   It’s why we tell them.  To make sense of our lives, we need to identify with the characters and it’s so much easier to do that without a layer of slap in between.

 

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Talking to strangers

There I was at the bus station in Amsterdam, checking out the times, 10 pm and this homeless poet approaches me. I know he was a homeless poet because he introduced himself but unfortunately I forgot his name, so only the poet bit stuck

It was an original way to beg money, one, he was offering a service, helping you find the right bus and as a bonus reciting a poem from his anthology, for which if you felt generous, you could reward him with a small contribution to the arts i.e. the homeless poet.

I didn’t need his expertise with timetables as my husband had already worked out which bus and stop we needed but this didn’t deter the homeless poet. He was into free verse and after a quick check of his little black book, he recited a poem about souls flying up to the moon. It wasn’t the sort of poetry I’m into – I prefer rhymes, they seem to stick in your head better and the recitation was interrupted when he had to answer his mobile but I felt he deserved a euro because his poem did paint powerful pictures.  He wasn’t impressed however and I felt guilty but only for a few minutes when I heard him narrating the same poem to another unsuspecting traveller at an adjacent bus stop.

Talking to strangers can be fruitful especially if they want to reply – it’s more rewarding than eavesdropping on one sided mobile conversations on the train or the bus – you get to see people’s faces, read the expressions in their eyes, and connect, even if it’s only for two minutes and that’s all it takes to make an indelible imprint on your writer’s soul.

Or, if you can’t get away from the computer to linger round bus stops, tune into The Listening Project on BBC Radio 4,  for some of the most amazingly conversations you’ll ever hear: humorous, honest and often humbling – prepare for an imprint on your soul.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01cqx3b

 

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The character you never invited.

The story’s coming together, you know who’s the hero and who’s the baddie.  You’ve got all the ancillary characters, the locations, you’re sure of the theme.  You’re ready to get down to the scene by scene and then suddenly from nowhere this character appears.  You’re not quite sure how they’ve got there but suddenly they’re in the scene and they’re part of the story and if you tried to take them out, you’d find yourself with a hole in the plot.  Your uninvited guest has made themselves at home.

This kind of development happens more to me in prose than it does in scripts and it may well be that prose at the early draft stage is more relaxed and open to experimentation..  Also it could be novels allow the reader to handle more characters than drama – there’s time for the reader to wander down meandering roads.  The novel is not the tightly constructed screen play, where, if you follow the Hollywood model, you’ll know exactly where you are and if you’re not, what you need to do to get there.  Films need a story as tightly nailed down as a short, short story.  There’s no room f.or uninvited characters.

Yet just because you didn’t know they were coming, until you opened the door on a scene and there they were, doesn’t mean that your uninvited characters are going to change the story you want to tell.  You could suddenly find that your story expands or gains depth through the new character providing a storyline that has resonance for the hero.

In the children’s novel I’m working on at the moment, I was writing a scene where a lieutenant has to report to the arch villain, Jeremiah, who’s evil and cruel.  Writing’s all about show not tell as we’re continually told, so to leave the reader in no doubt as to Jeremiah’s despicable nature, I wrote a scene where he’s interrogating a poor snivelling wretch.  Even poor snivelling wretches if you give them dialogue have to have names but beware, as soon as you give them one, they’ll come alive and start offering you insights into how they could add a bit of variety and humour and even allow your main characters to show who they really are.  Still you should think carefully before you christen them; will Snivelling Wretch No. 1 become a monster and try to take over the show.

So Edwards, as he is now, is part of The Curse of Millie Hapless.  He hasn’t taken over the show, just fitted in nicely.  Millie is a 12 year old girl who accidentally travels back in time and discovers that her ancestor, a famous lady smuggler and spy has been wrongly accused of betraying England, a slur that has echoed through the centuries and impacted on the modern day Hapless family. Millie naturally sets about overturning this injustice.  It was only when I wrote Edwards into that interrogation scene that I saw how he could add to the twists and turns of the plot and even help to save Millie’s great, great, great, great grandmother, Lucy from the gallows.

I’m not saying that all uninvited guests shouldn’t be shown the door but just occasionally it’s worth offering the odd one some hospitality for they could repay you handsomely.

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Filed under Character mapping, Characters, Children's writing, Feature films, Film writing, Novels

Suddenly September

Yes it’s happened again, another summer has flown past and we’re rushing towards the end of the year.  My time was divided between nose-to-laptop and a wonderful wedding.  Family weddings are joyous things where you share the moment when someone you’ve known and loved all their life begins another life with someone they love.  And then the day you’ve prepared for over many months is gone as quickly as the summer that you’re left remembering.  But from that day you have a mosaic of memories of faces, glances, laughter, words whispered and declared, silhouettes on the dance floor, speeches you remember so clearly, they’re etched in the air,  all of it your own private album, never dimmed by time, coloured by that unique moment, playing on a live, moving screen, unmatched by anything in the world.

You could lift them complete and slot them into your latest screenplay, novel or story and wonder why they don’t work or we could plunder them as writers do, though never the things that are closest to our hearts.  But the more you relive and remember, you’ll sift the essence and distilled, it will filter into your writing, though you must be careful with your own emotions, if you want your characters to be as individually pure as they can.

When I first started writing I was given a list of things you should know about your character which included what size shoes and colour socks they would wear and, okay, so maybe it was meant as a guide from which you could build a picture but there was nothing on that list about emotions.   Even the most bloodless, boring person has those and the reason they appear so sanguine could be just as valuable to the writer as what lies behind a life and soul of the party person.  Our greatest fears influence everything we do and every character has a colossal fear that drives and restricts them.  Find that fear and work out what is stopping them from overcoming it.   The best piece of advice I ever had from a script editor was “dig deep”.   But first dig into yourself and find out what your greatest fear is, and it will hurt, but only if you’re completely honest.

Some resources I’ve found valuable on character:  favourite screenplays, The Art of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri and Laurie Hutzler’s Emotional Toolbox Character Map.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Character mapping, Characters, Film writing

Never, ever, ever throw anything away.

NEVER, EVER, EVER, THROW ANYTHING AWAY

A writer I knew once, in the depths of despair after a snowstorm of rejections – like buses, they always arrive together – took every single thing she had ever written and made a bonfire in the garden and burnt it all, and swore never to write another word again.

First of all, let me make it clear, I was not this writer, as in “There’s this friend of mine …” I’m not a good liar, which is why I probably write fiction. Everyone knows you’ve made it up, so it doesn’t matter and you also get to practise the lying part. And secondly, if I ever set fire to everything I’d ever written, I’d need a far larger location than my garden.

But the thing I admired about my friend, the writer, was the certainty with which she could decide to destroy all that time and effort, all those ideas, all the emotional input and give up writing. I wished I could be that brave, that sure of never needing to get those infernal words out of my head. If you can stop writing and not miss it, then you are very lucky. I’ve taken breaks from writing and filled them with travelling, working abroad, jam making and allotments and finally children before I gave up and went back to writing, bizarrely when I had the least time of all.

Just because you’ve had something rejected many times over, doesn’t mean that there isn’t a market for it somewhere, (see Rejection and the Boomerang post). A few years ago, I wrote a short film script. It was a coming of age story and it attracted some interest but never got made. It garnered its own little pile of rejections but I’d rather have that than dust and then out of the blue, an opportunity presented itself. A friend needed a script for a group of actors. Did I have anything that would fit? I had something that was almost right – that coming of age story. Since writing the original, I’ve changed computers several times and whilst everything’s backed up on disks, it was much easier to open a filing drawer and put my hand on the script.

There’s something about hard copy that’s satisfying – the feel of paper in your hand and it’s harder to ignore or pass over in the way you can a title in a document file. You can’t delete it in a temporary angst driven aberration. Like my writer friend, you have to give it a proper funeral pyre and if you expend all your energy in blue sky thinking like me, that’s a deterrent in itself.

But when you unearth this old script, be prepared. It’ll be a bit like seeing yourself in an old photograph next to a mirror – you’ll have moved on a fair few years but it’s what’s inside your head that matters not the exterior and best of all, your story gets another chance and you, another bite at the cherry. So whatever way you store it, hang on to it – all that person power and imagination. Don’t consign it to the digital dustbin or add to global warming. Keep it safe.

“Last Tango” is now in post production at ALRA North, Wigan.

There’s a special summer offer on my Anthology, “Life, Love and Holidays” on Amazon – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Life-Love-and-Holidays-ebook/dp/B00B1EP2FC/ref=sr_1_2?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1376140013&sr=1-2&keywords=Life%2C+Love+and+Holidays

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Filed under Film writing, Short films, Writing and rejection

Character, character, character

It was ten years ago and I was sitting in the doctor’s waiting room with one other person ahead of me. I can remember how dark it was and the time, early evening on a rainy summer’s day but not the reason why I’d gone there. Maybe it was because of what happened afterwards. I was flicking idly through a magazine with true life features when I turned a page and read something that hooked me.

“She took over my life like she’d stepped into my clothes”.

I always know when a story’s got legs, because the main character keeps stalking me like some cerebral troll and that one line kept repeating in my head like a refrain. When she appeared in my short story, “Dolls”, she became Carol Jones, a wife who’d been deserted by her husband and seen the new woman in his life do exactly what the woman in the magazine feature described. However, this is where fiction departed from fact as the market I was aiming for preferred endings that offered some hope.

When “Dolls” was published in UK magazine, Essentials, the editor changed the title to “Paul’s Playthings”, which suits the story better for it’s written from the perspective of Paul’s two wives. In my story Carol makes a Plasticine voodoo doll of the new woman in her ex’s life. Whatever caught my attention in that feature and made me write that character also caught the attention of readers and “Paul’s Playthings” was syndicated all over the world. As one editor said, “It’s got something that people connect with.”

That something that reaches out and grabs you can happen anywhere and it doesn’t even have to be a character you like. You can be caught off guard and assaulted by some fictitious creature you’d cross the road to avoid. Six months ago, I was tucking into the best cheese cake in Liverpool at the Walker Art Gallery cafe when a generously proportioned and quite aggressive female character invaded my imagination and refused to leave. She stalked me on a tour of my favourite paintings and all the way home on the bus. Why she’d chosen to suddenly appear then might have something to do with the cake I was eating for it figures large in her story.

Eventually I gave up trying to ignore her and left her to rummage and ruminate in my imagination. By the time I put my key in the front door, her narrative was taking shape. It’ll be a while before Maddie’s ready to step out into the world in “The Pudding Club” but I’m having a lot of fun making her acquaintance.

There was another reason though why I remember that rainy summer evening in the doctor’s surgery. Having found Carol Jones, I had no pen or paper to jot down the idea, so I waited until the buzzer went and I was alone and tore the page out of the magazine. I wouldn’t have done it to a book but I still felt guilty enough to remember it years later. I’ve kept that yellowed magazine page. When you find a character you connect with, don’t let them go.

To find out what happens to Carol and the voodoo doll in “Paul’s Playthings” get my e-book anthology – “Love, Life and Holidays”. It’s free on Amazon for 5 days from 20th May 2013 to 24th May 2013 or if you miss the offer, only $2.00 or £1.28.

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Filed under Characters, Short stories