Whenever I’m writing a major character, I generally use a well known actor as my initial template. The question I keep in the forefront of my mind is; what would that person sound like speaking the words and performing the actions of that character? How would they play that role? What gestures would they use to interpret my character?
Today I’m working on ‘A Falling of Angels’ where Charles Hertford, spymaster and master manipulator is creating a situation where my hero can expose the bad guys and yet not bring down the government in the process. The physical template I’m using for Hertford is the current James Bond, actor Daniel Craig. In my head, I hear Craig speak Hertfords lines, see him make the gestures and generally perform the part. Likewise, my hero, mind reading detective Paul Calvin, loosely uses the voice and interpretation style of film actor Clive Owen. Which for me helps keep my characters consistent, and hopefully a little more credible. Chief Inspector Veeta Parnay for example, is based around the style of another Bond movie star, Naomie Harris.
It’s a bit of a cheat I know, but when you’re trying to avoid stereotypes it works for me. Having spent some time at drama classes I’m always reminded that a little spontaneity keeps a character fresh and hopefully interesting to a reader and I try to bear this in mind. Sometimes it all falls over and a character can feel a bit flat because this internal shorthand doesn’t translate very well to the page. Which is always the risk you take. Sometimes I’ll even try combining two actor styles and imagine a cross between say, Anthony Hopkins and Morgan Freeman (Hertfords Boss) in a role. If I want someone mature and smoothly sinister, I’ll begin with a composite of say, Ian Richardson and Ian McKellan. In the theatre of my head, it’s always a great help to close my eyes and see the character I’ve created make the gesture and speak the words I’ve written. As they’re such familiar screen icons it makes it easier for me to wring the words out of my keyboard.
There is a school of thought that states one should always base characters on real live people, but that can and does backfire. Particularly in libel suits. For myself I’ll continue steering to the windy side of the law and imagine how a specific actor would play my character.
Sometimes you have to sacrifice wordage on the altar of a story. That is today’s lesson. ‘A falling of Angels’ first draft will be complete within the next three weeks at around 80,000 words. Current word count is 76,000 plus, but I’m going to have to excise 18,500 words of that for the greater story to make sense. On the upside, it will mean I no longer have a glaringly orphaned storyline. The material will be transferred to the MSS of ‘On a bridge, burning’ where it fits in better with the narrative of Paul Calvins latest fall from grace.
As a means of improving my proof reading I’ve taken to reading passages of my latest output aloud. With my office door closed of course. If the language sounds right when I say it, it stays in. If I stumble on a first and second read through, then I have to take a big virtual hammer on a passage to simplify until it reads properly.
The good news is that after all the upsets and disruptions of the past few months, I’m actually settling down to some steady writing. The weekends fishing expedition, which ended as honours even between myself and brother in law Ian, helped unravel some mental kinks that were getting in the way. I think we’ll be repeating the experience next month.
While trudging away on the ‘A Falling of Angels’ manuscript, Angie and I took a little time out. We’ve been working every day of the week solidly for the last two years and are trying to reclaim our weekends. As part of this process we were out discovering some of the more interesting places in Victoria on foot and I had a little flash of inspiration which has turned into a minor project overnight.
With the working title ‘The Great Book of Everything’, I came up with the framework for a comic novel about a boy, his sarcastic pet Hamster and the Quantum nature of everything. And Squirrels. As soon as I get the web pages organised, I’ll post what I write online. This site needs reorganisation.
I’m not generally a fan of fantasy as a genre. On the other hand, I’m very happy to read and watch the work of George R R Martin. The series is engrossing, and I think (takes deep breath as I’m about to write fantasy heresy) better than Tolkien. I’ve read Tolkien, and it just never took hold with me the way that George Martin’s work has.
I watched this interview, and discovered much that finds resonance with me. No-one is completely good or evil, and his female characters are less bound by stereotype than in many similar works. Characters morph and change throughout a story, being moulded and in turn moulding the narrative. They do the unexpected for their own strange reasons. Loyalties shift, even within families, and I feel this is a good thing, as it adds depth and surprise.
The only thing I hope he doesn’t do is kill off Tyrion Lannister. Not yet anyway. Both the narrative version and Peter Dinklage’s performance in Game of Thrones are far too much fun.
Oh well, I have my own lonely furrow to carry on ploughing. Back to the keyboard.
Back deep in the narrative guts of ‘A falling of Angels’ at present. In order to add another layer, I’ve decided to expand the role of my mind reading detective characters current girlfriend. Because he’s made a nuisance of himself with the powers that be (as usual), he’s been suspended for a month this time, and since she has lost her job, they’ve gone on holiday together. While on holiday, and in response to exposing another clue about his past, his girlfriend demonstrates practical surveillance busting skills which solve several issues. Nothing out of character, rather using her known skill set to best advantage. Flirting with a sales assistant to distract, using her initiative.
In the days when I used to watch Doctor Who, the characters who used to annoy me most were the Doctors ‘Assistants’ who would, at a story critical juncture, scream, break a heel, get captured by the monster and be generally about as much use as a chocolate kettle. Just so the Doctor can leap into the Tardis and save them. The other kind were the über feminists who were oh so much better than everyone else. If you’re going to have a useful female character with a life longer than a single episode, you’ve got to flesh them out a bit. Let them kick a Cyberman so hard his batteries fall off, be smart enough to blind a Dalek by sticking masking tape over its silly monocular eyepiece, vent a villain out of the airlock occasionally without needing the Doctors sonic screwdriver sort of thing. A bit more than just a victim, but not so much they take over the show. In Doctor Who, my particular favourite remains (Predictably) Louise Jameson as Leela during Tom Baker’s sojourn as the Doctor.
It’s what I hate about teen slasher movies. The helpless cheerleader stereotype who you know is going to get killed in the first few minutes because she can’t do anything but totter along on four inch heels and scream for help as the implausibly dressed villain stalks after her. Female (and male) characters need depth to be credible, otherwise they’re just yawn worthy. They have to be able to spring surprises now and again. Display hidden strengths. Not too many, and always in line with what we understand about them as people. Human enough to be fallible, but not so infallible as to lose their humanity. That’s what keeps me awake through a movie or book. By the same token, stereotypes induce almost instant somnolence.
Ergo; Marcy, who first appears as Paul Calvin’s slightly slutty waitress girlfriend from ‘Head of the beast’ develops into a better defined character in ‘A falling of Angels’. She does things only she could do for reasons which matter to her, and in addition we learn facts about her designed to make a male reader nod with respect, and a female reader identify with. Both have to do with her family. Layers upon layers, a personality built up as she (and he) drive the story forward. It’s added over eight thousand words to the MSS over the past three days, and they all stand up to scrutiny. Another twenty thousand words or so and I’ll have finished this particular volume in the series. Yippee.
Maybe there can be sometimes too much of a good thing. Inspiration, that is. Had a great idea the other day for a little dramatic vignette for ‘Darkness’. A sound piece for to round out the backstory. One that ties up two character threads neatly, just in case a reader asks “Hey, whatever happened to them?”.
The only problem is; sometimes an idea is too good and takes over from the main story sequence. Unfortunately, my story now contains too many conflicts with other character threads. At the same time it’s just too damn good to ditch, because what’s written tidies up a gaping hole in the narrative. On the other hand it opens several large tins of wriggling Oligochaeta.
Originally I’d planned to kill off the two characters in question to provide a focus of angry motivation for others, but I like them both so much I really can’t bring myself to do the evil deed.
This means yet another storyline restructure. Head meet desk. Hi. Ow.
Don’t know how anyone else copes with story conundrums of this nature, but it’s at times like these I’m glad that I use a laptop running word processing software, and not my old Imperial Safari typewriter. Think of the trees I’m saving.