Something that Richard said in his post during the week got me thinking about characterisation.
‘I find I’m creating characters in pairs or multiples or contexts – they only exist when they start bouncing off one another, or bouncing off their contact with a particular setting or turn of events. Sometimes the character comes before the setting or turn of events, and sometimes vice versa – but never a character on his/her own, not any more.’
This is so true. I found myself showing the movie The Princess Bride to my class the other day and when it came to the fight scenes, I said, Now watch closely. The reason these scenes are gripping is because the people stay in character while they fight.
When Westly (the man in black) fights each of the three men who have been sent to kidnap the princess, each fight is different, each requires a different skill and he wins in a different way.
Inigo believes himself to be such a skilled swordsman he has to fight left-handed, or there is no fun in it for him. When he swaps to his right hand and they continue, the man in black smiles. Why? Because he is not left-handed either.
The giant doesn’t think it is very sportsman like to hide behind a boulder and throw rocks. When the man in black knocks the giant out, he says, I do not envy you the headache you will have when you wake. Sleep well and dream of large women.
When the man in black comes up against the Sicilian, he defeats him using his wits. And even in his last battle with the Prince, Westley plays on the Prince’s cowardice to defeat him.
You can only write these kind of scenes if you know your characters well enough for them to stay in character while they are fighting. How the characters behave when they interact comes down to the sort of people they are, which is Richard’s point, about characters bouncing off each other.
Action reveals character.
Here is a link to Richard’s tips for Creating Characters in Groups. For his whole section on characterisation see thislink. Here’s Holly Lisle’s article on How to Create a Character. She talks about starting with a dramatic need.
Another movie which I show the kids to help explain characterisation is Blade Runner.
There’s a scene right at the end of the movie where the last replicant (android) talks about his past and comes to terms with his imminent death. He’s just saved the detective from falling off the roof. Now he sits there in the rain and talks of the things that he has seen, which will all die with him.
Lost like tears in rain.
This powerful line wasn’t in the original script. The actor came up with it, which is an achievement considering English was not Rutger Hauer’s first language.
In this case you have an actor who knew his character so well, that he knew what the character would say.
This is what the writer should be aiming for. The writer needs to become so immersed in the character that they see the world through that character’s Point of View.
I wasn’t using PoV in the traditional sense, as in how to switch from one PoV to another in a scene, but more in the sense of filtering the world and its events through the character’s perception.
A child character might blame themselves when their parents fight because they’ve been naughty.
A character who is inherently distrustful will see ulterior motives where there are none and a character who is honest, will fail to see the dishonesty in others. Sometimes a ‘good’ trait can be a failing in the right circumstance.
So there are you are – Characterisation through View Point, the evidence is in the action or reaction of your character/s.
What are your favourite movies for characterisation?