Well, the past week was supposed to be all about getting back to the script, but instead it ended up being all about being ill; having a stomach flu, conjunctivitus, a cold and then gout in my foot. Totally fucking yay. These are all by products to one extent or another of transplantation drugs. You are very well informed before organ transplant that the drugs you take afterwards are designed to stop your body, your immune system, being able to recognise foreign invaders as just that, foreign, since another person's organ is recognised as tissue not belonging to you.Unfortunately this also means it doesn't recognise all sorts of other things, flu, colds, bactieral, viral, all that. It also means you're more likely to get skin cancer but that's another matter, one I don't get since that's all about your own tissue, but I accept it on face value.
Now I will do my first post about the script. The enigmatic, never finished script. Well I say never finished, we've only been working on it since July, that isn't realllly long enough to suggest we'll never finish it. But since me and Ant were writing a different script for four years before I got ill and it never got finished I have to jest.
Anyway. I haven't done anything on the script. Instead I've been moaning about feeling ill, watching random comedies, and a Quentin Tarantino marathon. The story is supposed to be about a load of people with health problems but that in no way means me having health problems helps me write the fucking thing.
Anyway, no more complaining on that. Previous scriptwork consisted of us figuring out the whole narrative based on three defined characters and many other faceless characters with usually one or two script functions. Next we need to develop the rest of the characters, and I realised that is why I've been having problems with them. The narrative has been based around one person as the total protagonist, and a second main character whose pov we never follow specifically. All the other characters were to be fodder to move the story along and allow the necessary plot points to take place. I was hoping to elevate them in the odd scene but mostly I was fine with them being utilitarian. The film would most definitely follow the zombie genre technically without the zombies, and for such a story I was naturally inclined to create the normal dynamic - a group of people come together because being in a group is stronger than being alone when under attack, but ultimately there is one or two people who are more central, more logical, level headed and strategic than the rest. In order to create the best protagonist in these stories they lead, sometimes subtley in the beginning and then more strongly as they continue to survive while more people in the group die and the group gets smaller. They in variable ways have the ideas that are the most sensible to keep them alive, or they are just strong, resilient and nimble enough to survive more than the rest, but they are also more empathic, they will not be the member of the group who loses their head to fear and tries to viciously sacrifice the safety of others to save themselves. The protagonists in this genre are often proactive, strong, thoughtful and a mixture or self preservatory and considerate.
That is, in the most generic of the genre. Since there are many ways our project subverts all that, straying quite strongly away from the usual content an end of the world / humanity, wierd infection, humans changed template, I automatically found myself using the basic character dynamic template to design the character relationships, and I built the basic elements of the supporting characters to support what was in the narrative. This can work fine for someone who does want to make something like Carriers, such a typical examples of 2D characters for simplicity, but if you want to do something with watch and rewatch factor you need something more.
I was being lazy. Partly because the biggest challenge for me is dialogue, and partly because I wanted to complete a first draft really fast. And if I just wanted to do something like Inside (that Dalle film) then my characters would be totally top dandy super fine but I don't want to do three minutes of character development surrounding but homogeneous death and torture.. Now I see the reason that lightning speed draft never happened is as soon as I started seeing the limitations of my characters, I stalled writing the actual scenes. I don't want Carriers/ Inside level of character development. I want The Odd Couple. I want Hot Fuzz. I want Hobson's Choice, Back to the Future, Moon, fucking Wall-E for god's sake. I want people to totally identify with my characters and be engrossed in them, in whether they live or die, do the right thing or wrong, get a reward or get their comeuppance. And I want my dialogue to zing, I want people to be waiting for that line the second or third time they watch the movie again, because hearing it again is just that good. Some people might find that wish just a little surprising, because as you can see, I sometimes communicate like I'm a frigging litigator. Secondly, only my closest friends think I'm funny. But does that mean I'm funny when I'm comfortable and in comfortable surroundings, or does it mean my closest friends know it would be a major hassle to weasle away from me now and if they admit I'm about as funny as cancer I'll beat the fucking shit out of them?
But even if you are naturally funny, how do you write that? I mean you may watch a thousand films and be able to pull out what is great about them, and more specifically in my case you may be able to pluck out the best dialogue and say why it's incredible, but just because you can identify incredible when it's right there in front of you doesn't mean you can pull words together and put incredible out there for other people to identify. I might be able to hear President Merkin Muffley screaming about not fighting in the war room and squeal about what is so special about that line, but that doesn't prove I would ever come up with it myself.
My problem is I'm good at scenarios. The scenes themselves and what might happen, which part might play funny, how to make the whole thing flow with logic and plausibility. That lends itself nicely to rudimentary dialogue. Just what's necessary for that scene. And for plenty of films, that works fine. A lot of Cameron's back catalogue is just that. Same goes for the supposed main characters of Bladerunner (no, not Rutger's touch of genius at the end). All that can be great if you want to focus on being able to identify with the character's as realistic with no distractions through comedy relief. For example, Inception doesn't contain zingers, yet I loved it, and there is no need to explain why. Wit can take away from emotion sometimes, can lighten a tone that has specifically been engineered to feel heavy. But I want wit. I want zing. And that's not good if you don't even think you're any good at dialogue in general.
More importantly, my script is supposed to be moving in some places, supposed to be unbearably sad now and again, so it's not like I want wit the whole way through. Another problem is, I like satire. I write satire, and frankly even more so that common or garden comedy, you can never tell who will get it and who won't, who will find it funny, who will see a joke even exists, and who will just get offended by the lack of wink. Fucking hell, what a conundrum : P
I have been thinking about characters alot though, and how to change mine. How do you choose to make all your characters interesting and engrossing without making it implausible that they would all come together in a story. There is of course the obvious, the grand tradition of only showing those who are interesting in amongst all the boring arseholes. Many writers, including Tarantino, like to focus on the occupational, combining the grand tradition with the hint that in such and such a situation / job / industry any person having a place within it would contain such and such trait as a necessity for the job. People who are as tough as each other, as grand as each other, as crazy as each other, they gravitate to the same situations because (often) they have the same characteristics, or at least enough of them. This can be helpful for both the writer who is good at dialogue and the writer who is good at scenario. Say the writer in question only finds humour about the mafia interesting, or interesting period, regardless of humour, they can fill the screen with scenes to do with the mafia if scenario is their strength, and much of the dialogue needed will present itself. Equally if their strong suit is dialogue, the scenarios appropriate for such dialogue will pop up as dialogue is written.
Then you have the writers who just want realism and sometimes the accidentally perfect humour of the salt of the earth types. This can be both the hardest to write and or the easiest, depending on whether the characterisation falls on its arse or if you are totally engrossed. Why, for example, do so many people care so much about the old guy with the bird dying in Shawshank Redemption? The scene doesn't last very long and it isn't preceeded by much in the way of characterisation, yet it brings many to tears with the regrettable pathos of it all.
But what to do when you want both light relief and emotional resonance? Identifiable, believable, likeable characters who are both entertainingly charismatic, occasionally distanced through comedy and get indelibly moving and touching and unforgettable? And yet still kookily designed with enough contradictions to create enough grey area of moral ambiguity to leave you rapt with intrigue?
For a first time writer this was a pretty stupid task to set but that's what I've set myself up for doing so that's what I'm trying to do. Let's see if it goes horribly wrong.
I'm really good with get new ideas from seeing other peoples ideas, so I'm currently doing a bunch of cliches to try to jog my brain into thinking up more interesting characters than the ones I've got.
1) Super methodological, I'm trying to wade through my favourite characters and their dialogue and work out why I like them and why they work for me.
2) Reassess books about dialogue and character development. Some books I really like, some I think are shit. Writing Dialogue for Scripts (Rib Davis) is an excellent book, often articulating what you may have already subconsciously know but had never thought through before. Perfect for me since I wanted this title specifically for what it is, a book about dialogue. There are many other great books about how to get the whole architecture of a script down and how each part relates to each other. But for the person who feels they have a grasp on all that and definitely have no grasp on dialogue, this is the best. Then you have Creating Unforgettable Characters (Linda Seger). Perhaps I only say this because I had read quite a few of the books that can be lumped into the 'they all say the same thing' catagory, but for me this book did indeed only say what I had already read in many other places. Anyhoo, I'll be rereading some of them, proper revision styli.
3) Write down the traits of your friends, or indeed every interesting person you have ever known, make a list, then take, say, one trait from three different friends, combine them together... what kind of person do you get? The theory goes that if you do this when you need to write your characters, their fears, motivations, hidden ulterior motives, likes, dislikes, habits, you will be calling upon the memories of full fledged people, how they were perceived through their idiosyncratic mixtures of habits, motivations, likes etc. You will be creating characters with minimal abstract thought, so your characters will hopefully be less abstract.
4) Writing a day in the life of. Many people will tell you that writing a biography of your character(s) is the best way to get to know them, but someone like me can't do that - I won't know how much detail to go into and when to stop. I might end up with a novel for each character but no film. So I'm going with a day in the life of each character. I realised if I wrote a day in the life of myself, I would regularly be reminded of what in my history has made this habit or that hobby a part of my life, so the same might apply to my characters. I'm figuring I'll write the day in the life thing, and allow myself to follow what I think their background is from that. If I think a character doesn't work I'll just accept which bits aren't working for me and start again.
CLICHES!!! CLICHES!!!! Everywhere I look cliches! I know right? Well I'm stuck so that's what I'm trying. Hopefully in a week I can move onto getting all scene cards written out and move on to tackling the monster that is dialogue, and then move on to fact checking my medical research and fill in the global issue gaps through media news network research.