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Thursday, 20 September 2012

Are Your Characters Written to Fit Movie Stars?

I ask this question quite seriously, since I’ve seen a few articles suggesting people do precisely this. It would be a waste of time for me as I’d have difficulty in putting faces, let alone other characteristics, to more than half a dozen actors. It’s not that I don’t admire their skills, simply that when I watch an actor at work I lose myself in the character portrayed rather than watch the person playing that part.

For me, the essential aspect of a character is personality. Hemmingway suggested we should write about people not characters, as he described characters as caricatures. I agree with his first point. But his second is off the mark. A character is only a caricature if it portrays the person in an unlikely or exaggerated manner. A character, as used in drama and fiction, is or should be an imagined person drawn in such a way that the reader or audience will accept them as real.

Having said that personality is the vital aspect, I don’t mean to suggest that appearance is unimportant. It’s simply that appearance is a secondary consideration for me. In fact, when I create a character I always do so with some image in mind. I generally use a picture of a person collected from the internet. These are unnamed human beings who I use as visual frameworks to which I apply a history, relationships, likes and dislikes, traits and faults to bring them to life. Having a picture of the person I intend to create helps me develop a more rounded human being for the story.

I suppose I could search the internet for pictures of actors and then apply my method to those pictures. In fact, I suspect I’ve done so occasionally, without actually realising it. There is, of course, a very ‘good’ reason for using the physical type of a known actor as, if the work is seen as suitable for a film or a TV play, the producer may recognise the character more easily and use that recognition for casting. On the down side, however, if the chosen actor has always played ‘baddies’ and my character is actually a ‘goody’, such recognition could well prove an obstacle.

For me, applying the idea of the actor to the role of a character in my fiction would involve extensive viewing of films and TV works simply to identify potential models. I don’t have time to do that. I do, of course, watch TV and go to the cinema. But I do that in the spirit of escapism and don’t want to turn my leisure into an extension of my writing. In any case, I prefer to use my imagination, and employing ‘unknown’ human beings gives me far more scope to overlay the model with the characteristics I determine as necessary to the story I’m telling.

So, for me, picturing Emma Watson as other than Hermione Grainger, Johnny Depp out of pirate’s costume, Julia Roberts outside the role of Pretty Woman, or Robin Pattinson other than Cedric Diggory would be difficult. It’s not that I’m unaware of them playing other roles, simply that my experience of them is in these parts only. So, these images would overlay them as characters in my fiction and that would be counter-productive. It would limit my choices. I don’t blame the actors or their roles, simply my own lack of cinematic attendance.

So, to return to the opening topic. Do you make your own characters in fiction fit particular movie stars? And, if so, how do you get past the roles they’ve played? I’m intrigued, you see, and you may be able to pass on valuable lessons to me.

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Jack Eason said...

Using a known real individual as the basis for a character in what ever you are writing, to my way of thinking is a big no no. By definition, actors never show their real selves while acting the character they play, unless they are completely useless. So how on Earth could anyone use the actor to base their character on? All they possibly could do is base their character on one portrayed by the actor. said...

I have come across a number of references to writers using actors as guides for their characters. I suspect it's mostly to do with appearance and that these writers hope that somehow it might increase the chances of their work being turned into a film. It strikes me as a daft thing to do, Jack. But it does appear to be a strategy used by some. Thanks for your input, it's much appreciated.

Jack Eason said...

Good luck to them Stuart. Personally I think they have more chance of being struck by lightning. :) said...

I agree. It illustrates how desperate some writers can be, especially those who write solely in the hope of getting rich, I suspect.

Evangeline Warren said...

Generally, I fit my characters to real life people, which tends to be awkward when the original versions recognize themselves in my stories... I've never thought about the actor/regular person model thing, though I think that I might implement it in the future. I think it has the potential to be extremely helpful.

Eva said...

You have to be careful, using real people in stories, as it's very easy to be sued if the person recognises themselves and thinks you've portrayed them in a derogatory way. If I'm tempted to use real people, I always mix two or three, or ensure there are aspects that will make it unlikely that the originating figure would recognise themself. Of course, if you're portraying them in an entirely good or flattering light, you might get away with it!