Monday, January 2, 2012

Are You Brea? No ... Writers aren't Their Characters

I was watching that little promo clip you see On-Demand for other channels and programs. Writer and director Ed Burns was on promoting his new independent film Newlyweds. The host asked him if his hero was based on himself. He said (and I'm paraphrasing), he rarely writes about himself through his characters. He typically bases his characters on his friends or people he knows. Since I have been asked if I'm Brea, I thought this would make a good blog topic. What Burns said is most commonly the case. Good character development can and should be based on people you know or watch enough to know their gestures and habits. A model to base a character on helps define the character in the writer's mind. It also informs the character's behaviors and actions.

I regularly base my characters on people I've met over the years or favorite actors or actresses (particularly if it's a screenplay) to use as a model to help me figure out how they would say something or how they might react in a situation. In my stories, I also use a "germ" of truth (not always just sometimes) to turn it into a fictionalize account. For the most part, I could, in fact, point to some characters in California Girl Chronicles and tell you who I used as the model to define them. Some characters have a lot of the original model written in them, while others only have a small fraction of that person, and the rest is inflated and fictionalized for entertainment purposes. Let me give you some examples:

The character of Denise in CGC uses my best friend's name only. The rest of that part was written for actress and model Sonja Fisher. What do Sonja and "Denise" have in common? They look similar, and they both work in the software industry -- and that is as far as it goes. Sonja will be able to pull off Denise's comedic moments, but Sonja would never have sex in the supply closet with her engineer boss. I did write Denise with the knowledge that Sonja intended to play her so I wrote her in a way that I knew Sonja could work with and mold.

The character of Brea does reflect my sarcastic voice without a doubt. Brea's reactions to certain situation are definitely reflections of what I would think about certain behaviors. Brea is bolder, far more outspoken in a sexy way, and pretty much acts on impulse. Her outward and very sexy behaviors are absolutely no reflection of how I would behave. What she says in some situation while outrageous and funny, I might think something like that but I would never allow those thoughts to escape the "privacy" hatch. With Brea, these impulses and outward behavior are hallmarks of who she is as a person. I had one person suggest she was a bimbo. Brea is not a bimbo. She's very smart, but she is a woman who acts on her desires whether good or bad. She doesn't sleep around. She has a real relationship with each man in her life. Some readers overlooked the fact that she had known each man quite a long time before sex became involved. Brea is like everyone: she is looking for love.

The character of Kale was written for Alexander Skarsgard. Now last time I mentioned this idea, a fan site went nuts with it and said some not-so-nice things about the book they had not read. I have absolutely no idea whether or not this would be a project he would participate in (for the record). I don't presume to know either. I do know that I think he's a great, emotive actor. I know his material very well. My favorite project he starred in was Generation Kill. The reason I used Skarsgard for Kale is because he, as a person, has this innate decency and kindness about him (watch his behavior with fans alone). Again, I have no idea what he's really like (I don't know him in person). I've only made these observations in watching his interviews. I wanted Kale, who is the character most readers root for in the books, to be portrayed as a decent, kind man with a little bit of a hidden edge that won't come out in full force until book two. Book one foreshadows some of the beneath-the-surface issues with this character. I like to say Kale is Brea's Mr. Big for the purpose of the TV series, which is under strong consideration with a production company right now. Again, so no one takes this and misconstrues anything -- I do not know or presume to know if Mr. Skarsgard will have even the slightest interest in this project. But I do want to reinforce, the value of using his persona as a model for the character. It helped me define his voice in the story. If you are writing a screenplay or book, I recommend you (particularly for a screenplay) do use the actor to instruct the role. Producers will ask you who you see in the role. Be prepared with the answer.

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