Derry, Northern Ireland

Derry, Northern Ireland
A book I'm working on is set in this town.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Loving the ephemeral one

I don't really want to add to my already psychotic reputation, but in all my soul-searching the last few days, I finally realized I love my characters. And I mean that in the deepest sense, which is as if they were real human beings. Because in parts of my mind they are real...and that's what makes them live on the page for me (and, I hope, the people who read my work).

I've read books and scripts where the characters did not live or breathe. Earl Stanley Gardner was bad about that. Raymond Burr, hardly the most approachable of actors, brought more life to Perry Mason on the TV series than Gardner did in his books. The same for Agatha Christie; her characters were given one basic description and the rest was mechanics...though with Hercule Poirot she did allow some expansion beyond the necessary.

It was the same when I read Asimov's "Prelude to Foundation" -- well, read most of it. I'd so loved the first three books in the series, I jumped on this one...only to find Hari Selden was so poorly conceived, he came across as a complete idiot who only did things because the plot needed him to do them. It damn near ruined the series for me.

At the other extreme, the works of Tolstoy, Steinbeck, Ed McBain and even Grace Metalious (as pulpy as her writing is) gave you real people to welcome into your world.

Same goes for movies -- if I can't connect with the actors or feel the script is a set-up (meaning I'm going to be lead by the hand to a specific conclusion, with no thought allowed on my part) I go cold. I'm one of the few people to actually dislike "Sophie's Choice" and "Mystic River", and I've had people ask me if I have a heart, thanks to that. But I can connect with a melodramatic movie like "Now, Voyager" because, as lumpy as the writing and setups are and as easy as the resolution is to some of the situations, I connect with Bette Davis' Charlotte Vale. The reason is simple -- she seems human, to me, and overcomes the story's limitations.

Maybe it's just that Bette Davis is too powerful an actress to be held back by anything. Maybe she just had the ability to grab you and take you along for the ride...which seems to be more likely, since even when she was playing (and being) a bitch, you could still care for her. Meryl Streep doesn't have that ability; she's a bit too removed and cool. And Sean Penn used to (he made a vicious rapist-murderer someone so human, you hurt when he was put to death in "Dead Man Walking"), but he's lost it, somehow.

So that's my goal in my books -- to let my characters be as human and real as they can be. I tried it in my scripts, and I think actors connected with that, but producers and their coverage people didn't, so that did no good for anyone.

I guess I'm saying this because Jake is about to do something less than honorable, and I think I can make it understandable...but that's how people work -- sometimes they do the right thing for the wrong reasons. I just wonder how this will play out.

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