Loving Your Characters, All of Them

My writing partner always tells me, “I love all these characters.” She means even the bad guys.

Humans are not perfect.  If we were, stories, novels, campfire tales, films, ballets, operas, paintings or screenplays would not be interesting.  We will never be perfect; it is our struggle to become better that makes us worthy.  The journey, not the destination.

Yes, I do like my heroine of the currently-in-rewrites “Exit Strategy.” She is a complex person. She is an intensely flawed person.  Her own weakness leads to her eventual downfall.  Her inability to recognize and change her weakness leads to the death of many whom she loves.

If I wrote about her entire journey through life, the movie would be too long. I think I understand her strengths and failures, yet I need to trim that story into 120 pages. So, I believe–to find the love, as Uta Hagen says—I need to find the KEY desire that she has and the KEY weakness which makes her seek her goal in an unsuccessful manner. These two key drives are interrelated, of course.  Inextricably intertwined.  Her key desire is to save her wolves from being forced off their land.  Her key weakness will blind her to how she is, in the end, sabotaging her own key desire. My working theories of her key weakness are:

  • she sees things in black & white, not in their complexity
  • she does not understand subtlety or how to dissemble or how to be “politic” with people
  • she does not know how to collaborate; she sees herself as the lone heroine to save the world

There is an irony in these weaknesses.  The creatures whom she admires, wolves, being pack animals (social animals), have these skills in abundance.

Wolves understand how to let the little things go so their family (pack) can live harmoniously with each other.  They are able to be blunt without being offensive; for example, “Hey, Junior, the alpha eats first.  Just wait your turn.  We will make sure to leave something for you.”  Magnolia, on the other hand, would have a tendency to say, “Oh, you are just such an unredeemable idiot; how could you not know that you need to wait in line; you are bad (rather than ‘you made a mistake.’)”  Magnolia does not say “please” very often.

Wolves recognize that everyone has a role to play to keep the society running smoothly.  The strong adults hunt; the aunties babysit the youngsters; mothers stay in the den with infants and others bring them food; only the smartest and strongest have babies so that the whole pack gets stronger and smarter and so that there can be a dozen adults to help protect  and raise the babies.  Magnolia, on the other hand, thinks that if she doesn’t do everything herself, that it will not get done.  Others are not as smart and competent as her; or even don’t do things her exact way.  She does not realize that no one is good at everything; she does not understand how to delegate; she does not understand that by trying to do everything you end up doing nothing in the end because you have not been tactical.

Understanding the deep contradiction between the way my character behaves and the way she thinks is key to seeing how her journey will unfold.






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