Posts Tagged Character Development
Prologues. Some authors swear by them; some readers roll their eyes at them and skip ahead. Me? I believe that, like most literary devices, prologues have their time and place, i.e. some stories need them while other stories are better off without them. If used with moderation-but-pizzazz, The Prologue is a vehicle that may really put your story into gear and make the reader buckle in. However, writers without a firm handle on the steering wheel may drive their story to an early death [especially when querying], so beware.
Ok, enough with the vehicular metaphors. Here are two lists of when and how prologues may work – or not:
Via: Daily Prompt – Roots
Title Mr. Church
Starring Eddie Murphy, Britt Robertson, and Natascha McElhone
Director Bruce Beresford
Writer(s) Susan McMartin
Genre Comedy Drama
Release Date September 16, 2016
Filming Location Los Angeles, California, USA
Parental Guidance PG-13 for thematic elements
IMDB Rating 7.7
Synopsis: In 1971, 10-year-old Charlie Brooks (Natalie Coughlin) wakes up one morning to find “a black man cooking in their kitchen”. Mr. Henry Joseph Church (Eddie Murphy) is the cook Richard, her mother Marie’s (Natascha McElhone) ex-lover, hired to take care of Marie for the next six months that she has to live while cancer consumes her. Charlie, who is unaware of her mother’s condition, is immediately put on edge by the absent Richard’s overstepping their privacy to place this mysterious man in their home though his meals are “like a party all the time” and her friends all cotton onto the advantages of having a cook quickly. Mr. Church raises a lot of conflicting emotions in Charlie with his jazz and his books (that he offers to lend books to Charlie from like a library) and, especially, his cooking. Over time, Charlie gives in. Six months turn into six years and Marie continues to live while Mr. Church continues to take care of them. An older Charlie (Britt Robertson) is now an avid reader, a student who has been accepted to Boston University but might not be able to go due to financial constraints, and she is weary of expecting her bed-ridden mother to pass on any minute. She avoids her mother even as she checks her breathing to ensure she lives and finds solace in the presence of Mr. Church, to whom she has latched onto as the surviving parent. But Mr. Church remains a mystery as much as ever and protects his off-duty hour whereabouts determinedly. Friendship has bonded the three into a family and Mr. Church is ever-present to soften the blows while Charlie ventures onto adulthood and navigates its many curveballs.
Experience (a few spoilers): I have always loved Eddie Murphy, ever since I watched a re-telecast of Coming to America on TV when I was about ten/eleven. So I put on Mr. Church fully expecting him to live up to his acting prowess and he did not disappoint. Generally a comic actor, Murphy put on his drama mask with the grace and appeal that made me want to run a Murphy Marathon featuring all his classics.
From the get-go, he had me hooked. The quiet efficiency with which he chopped and stirred and sauteed in the kitchen to his gracious compassion for the young Charlie and her sick mother. The character is beautifully written and presented, not needing to be thanked but doing his best to fit into the lives of this pair without trying to do any more than his job. But behind his humility lurks humor, which peeks out whenever he presents a dish to Charlie and watches her battle with herself to continue rejecting him while devouring his food.
Here, I must say something about the child actor. I truly enjoyed Coughlin’s performance as well. Short as her part was, she brought that sweetness to the character that made me feel more sympathetic towards young Charlie than annoyed, which could easily have happened given the level of her hostility. Though often rude with the openly belligerent rejection of Mr. Church, Charlie was apparently a kind soul in her heart, if wary. And even though the movie did not explore the angle that the advent of Mr. Church denoted her mother’s inability to keep up with chores, hence harking her imminent demise, I believe Charlie’s distrust may have stemmed from such intuition. In any case, every time Coughlin’s big blues rounded at the sumptuous food laid before her, I felt like giving her the auntie-cuddle.
The older Charlie did not always inspire as much hold though I could also like her fairly enough. It must be the overall sense of goodness that emanated from Charlie’s character, from childhood to adulthood. I could feel sympathy for her teen self as she transferred her sense of security to Mr. Church while trying to deal with her mother’s (a woman she continued to believe the most beautiful woman on earth) impending death. Her withdrawal is real and her acceptance of life’s pitfalls also feels real. Robertson does a good job performing the role of the watchful-yet-retiring teenager and later the transgressing-and-learning adult. She is the character that has to grow and Mr. Church is the rock on which she founds herself.
McElhone did a great job in playing a woman trying to make the most of her last days with her daughter. The mother’s love is apparent and there is a particular scene in the bathtub that she performed superbly. The scene could easily have turned sappy but Marie’s struggle to make her daughter understand the importance of not giving up on life while waiting for death felt chokingly real. She depicted physical weakness while trying to muster emotional strength as she confesses her biggest regret is something beyond her control. I think that is the scene that dotted her t’s and crossed her i’s for McElhone’s take on Marie’s role.
The overriding themes of this movie, home, acceptance, and friendship, is so beautifully slipped into the consciousness that even when tragedies strike, it’s ok – reassurance is just around the corner. It is as though the Mr. Church’s personality permeates the plot. It is one of those stories where nothing much happens other than life, and we are reminded every phase of the film that in life, tragedy is part and parcel of happiness. It allows the audience to realize that it’s not so bad. I cried many times through the movie but there was a joy. I felt peace. And the lovely way the scenes were scripted and directed, it did not allow any of the actors to overstep their roles. The steadiness with which the story progressed, I could have watched it for hours more. Again, it was as though Murphy’s portrayal of Mr. Church toned the entire movie, even the frames where he wasn’t present. And Robertson’s character did its best to compliment, reminding us that home is where you can trust to put your roots down.
Recommendation: Oh, yes, you must! Whenever you feel a bit down on luck, this movie is sure to make you feel more grounded. Although I really missed Murphy’s toothy grins, it might be my favorite movie of his now.
Andy clipped her client on the chin, forcing him to throw his head back with the blow. Next, she got down on her haunches and threw one leg out, swiveling it to push her client’s legs out from beneath him. All six-feet-three-inches and two hundred pounds of him came crashing down with an outraged gasp on the boxing ring bed, making her jump up to regain her footing as the structure quivered all around them. Grinning down at Bob around her mouthguard, she prepared herself to face his rebuke. However, he seemed less than inclined to satisfy her irritable mood today.
Bob groaned into a sitting position and rested his elbows on his upraised knees. Spitting out his mouthguard into a gloved fist, he leveled his resigned moss-green eyes up at her. “That must’ve been some meeting you had with your old man yesterday,” was all he commented.
Andy spat out her own mouthguard, disgusted by his consoling tone. She was itching for a thrash-out and he was refusing to take the bait. What must a gal do around here to get an able and willing male opponent in the ring? “Meetings with my dad are nothing if not out of the ordinary. You should know that by now.”
Bob grunted non-committally. He pushed himself off the bed with the sheer strength of his legs alone, his calf muscles bunching and releasing with the effort. Andy tried not to gulp audibly. Her pelvic floor muscles, however, she thought she heard squeak with yearning. Not that she would respond to such yearnings; Bob was her client, after all. Read the rest of this entry »
“Hi, Dad.” Andy stared into a pair of eyes identical to hers in more ways than just the shade of larkspur and hooded lids. They matched her discomfort too. “Can I come in?”
He shrugged and walked away from the open door to his condo. Andy walked into his Florida home for the first time, closing the door behind her as she tried to rein in her curiosity. Driving up to the complex, walking through the grounds and lobby, riding up the designer scented elevator, she had been amazed by the glamor and upkeep of the property. The inside of her father’s apartment, however, suited more with his lifelong philosophy.
There was something called minimalism and then there was how Allen Tybalt lived.
Growing up with an austere man such as Allen had been challenging every step of the way. His job had their family moving a lot. Even though he was always away for on-site projects, Andy and her mother had to keep accompanying him to new cities every couple of years because Allen insisted that they live as a unit.
Allen had been a power plant engineer, the best in his field apparently. He earned a sack full of salary every month but never allowed Andy’s mother to decorate their myriad of residence as she wanted. Whenever her mother proposed the idea to buy something for their home, Allen would insist the venture unnecessary since they would have to move again anyway. That a family subjected to as many location transfers as theirs be unencumbered by possessions was perfectly logical so her mother never argued. Besides, few people won an argument with Allen.
It was just as well because Andy’s mother died in a road accident when Andy was just twelve years old so she doubted her mother would have gotten much time to enjoy a fully decorated home.
“You have a nice setup here, Dad,” Andy now said, looking around. “Suits you.” Actually, upon closer look, the furniture did appear to be very vogue even if sparse. “I’m not sure how easy it will be to pack the Zeng Fanzhi painting if you decide to move,” she added, staring at the article in question hanging over the long blue crushed velvet couch.
“I hide the money behind that. Besides, I won’t be needing it where I’m going next,” Allen grumbled. Read the rest of this entry »
Via: Daily Prompt – Label
Are writer’s quick to judge? If writers habitually sit around in public places, siphoning characters out of their neighbors, are their inspirations founded on preconceptions programmed into their outlook of society? I mean, sure, they add onto what they see but would it be correct to say that their imagination is still founded on stereotypes that they are prepossessed to notice?
Today, a friend of mine was hashing over a story idea with me for a novel he wishes to write in the near future. Without giving away much of anything, there’s a part where the protagonist, after facing a tragic defeat in love, begins to imagine various alternate scenarios where he might come off as the winner. While the protagonist is aware that these various attempts to change his fate are imagined, he is unable to distance himself from the illusions. I, in my turn, threw in Dumbledore’s dialogue from the King’s Cross scene in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”
Dead silence followed this ejaculation from the other end of the line. My friend has not read the HP books and, if he has seen the movies, it was probably without much reflection. I try not to hold this against him.
I went on to explain to him, “Perception is reality. How you perceive things adds to your experiences, which is what shapes you. If your character should imagine various alternate scenarios in search for romantic success and continue to fail, can it not add to his growth even if the incidents didn’t really happen?”
He seemed to like the concept very much and we discussed it further. I mentioned to him the Wickham-Darcy controversy in Pride and Prejudice [another classic he has not read but I don’t complain] and described the scene where Elizabeth reads Darcy’s letter, discovers Wickham’s true nature, and realizes what a gross error in judgment she has made. And her epiphany is not in the clarity she receives in finally learning what a villain Wickham is but in learning her own failing. That she had let a bruised ego direct her away from properly assessing Wickham’s abuse of Darcy. That her pride in the ability to discern the characters of others was not as deserved as she had assumed.
“But the crux of this conflict is,” I explained to my friend with the level of excitement I always feel when discussing Austen’s works, “if Elizabeth had not initially got her evaluation of Darcy so wrong, would she have learned to appreciate his goodness as strongly as she did later? Maybe if she perceived reality correctly the first time – if she had always known the truth – he would be just another rude guy but who has his heart in the right place? Maybe reality alone was not enough to make her fall in love with him? She needed to experience the lie to become fit to love him. Maybe sometimes a character needs to experience the lie in order to appreciate the truth. The unreal in the now can contribute to creating a desired reality for a later period.”
Hah! Now I’m counseling others on writing. Go figure.
I recently came to learn that most of my fellow writers pick characters off real life. They sit around in coffee shops and roadside bistros, watching their neighbors and making up stories about them. This practice is, apparently, more common than when you watch TV on mute and try to feed dialogues to the people on the screen. Mind blowing, right? I always wondered how writers felt so comfortable tapping away at the keyboard in coffee shops. Turns out, they are really just describing their surroundings. Not a bad writing tip, I thought. Should speed up the process of character creation some.
My characters come completely out of my head – just as my stories come to me when a real life situation strikes me as though it didn’t pan out the way they should have. So I try to “fix” things, albeit in fiction, where my muddled heroes and heroines stumble around until they learn “the right way” of living. I’m a big fan of justice, and when justice is not to be found in the real world, I make up worlds of my own. I’m really a very balanced person.
The problem is if my characters come right out of my head, how do I allow them to become independent of who I am? When I already know the way I want my characters to behave at the end (to serve the moral I wish to convey), how do I let their journey become independent of mine? Also, it would be a terrible bore if every character turned out to be an extension of me. Read the rest of this entry »
There’s a loaded word. I always felt that nuances exist on the precipice of stereotypes. You take the expectations cultural dogmas have conditioned in you and add a little something-something. Voila! You have nuanced characters for your stories. Personally, I use the following template to guide me when creating my characters. This should help a few writers.