What do all great actors/actresses have in common? What is it that they all share? Apart from talent and charisma (and great looks, in many cases) they are all immortalised through their performances, but most importantly they all take on (and are) great characters!
Part of being a great actor (much like a great sportsman) lies in the challenges you tackle through your career. And in most, if not all, scenarios you must start from a low, easy, point and work your way upwards (very rarely does one rise straight to the "top").
As a screenwriter you begin penning short films, or simple dialogues. An actor would start by jesting around in front of a friends camera and a footballer has to show his skills in a small team before donning one of the fabled jerseys that grace pitches today.
I can discuss footballing skills to no end, yet I can't kick a ball to save my life (it's the gloves for me...). Therefore the topic of interest here is characters! A topic that involves both the writer and the actor since one cannot exist without the other even if they are the same person. When I first started flirting with the idea of writing my own narratives there were a lot of questions. Granted, a lot of them were half-answered due to the time I spent creating imaginary worlds that my friends could throw dice at around a table. When elves, orcs and dragons are not the order of the day though, one has to create characters that fit this world, no matter how flamboyant, malevolent or simply down-right blunt.
Earnest Hemingway once wrote "When writing a novel a writer should create living people; A character is a caricature". All the truth you ever need regarding the creation of characters lies right there. No matter how crazy a character concept you come up with sounds, there is always the human element within.
Even in Dr. Manhattan's case (Watchmen), the omnipotent (anti)hero you see a socio-path or a man so detached from society he no longer cares for it. One of the greatest storytellers of this era, Quentin Tarantino, not only applies that to his work but he does so religiously. Many of the characters we meet in his stories are either based on real people or are, in fact, (down to the clothes they wear) real! Evidently, Tarantino's characters are also his greatest weapon. He himself wrote those stories, he himself spoke those quotes (the 'tipping' discussion in Reservoir Dogs. Magic) yet nobody would have cared if they weren't uttered by some VERY colourful and fleshed out individuals.
Even the great 'Dude' in Big Lebowski is an actual person, down the coat and the funny shorts. Does knowing that fact change our appreciation of the films or the characters? Of course not, because that is what storytelling is all about.
Understandably, a film 'based on a true story' places us (the viewers) in a certain mindset from the get-go. You expect real people, real situations. Yet even that is misleading since, as previously mentioned, even the most extreme characters you can think of come from a human memory bank full of real individuals that didn't necessarily star in a historical event exactly as portrayed on the screen. No matter how "real" or "unreal" a story is, the characters the tell it derive from the world around us. In some cases even the reverse applies, like Gladiator. A film "based on actual events". Maximus is an amalgam of at least three individuals, all very different from each other. Yet together they created this hero (brilliantly delivered by Russell Crowe through the eyes of the magnificent Ridley Scott).
One does not simply have to yank people from his reality and throw them on his page "as-is" in order to create a figure that people would enjoy listening and watching. Did you, like many people I know, scoff at the idea of a film regarding Noah and his arc? Probably! Knowing the mind behind this upcoming production (a certain Mr. Aronofsky) I except nothing less but electrifying characters and gripping storytelling. The source material is vague at best and clearly not enough to carry Noah on its own , and this is exactly where the writers come in. A well known (not documented) event, told by characters that will have things to say. Characters, I expect, that Darren Aronofsky has experienced in one way or the other. Yes, you can argue "What's next? a film about Mary and her little lamb?". Depends on who Mary actually is! And she can be anyone. That's the beauty of writing. The page is your canvass and you can paint a picture with all the "colours" (characters) that surround you.
Has your grandfather ever told you a story you cannot forget? Did your mother surprise you one day with road-rage you never thought she had in her? Have you ever hated someone so much that you can't but respect him/her for the effect they had on you? Each one of those individuals could have their own story or could be a part of a greater narrative (much like your life). All you have to do is have your eyes and ears open because they are everywhere. The polite cashier down the street. The waitress with the enormous smile or the doctor that saved your life. Detaching their names from their image is the first step you take in seeing them as characters, trust me they are there!
If you love writing or believe you might be inclined to love writing, try this. Note down five characters from your life that would carry a story, either on their own or together. Chances are that by the time you are done, the memories alone would be enough to actually be a story worth telling, "as-is".
- Frixos Masouras 2014