The last few days have been exceptionally kind to me. Between having a picnic in the rain (under a gazebo), watching movies together (It’s Complicated, Ponyo, Shutter Island, MI:III), taking the kids to a carnival, and hosting a dinner for Papa Lopez, I truly couldn’t be happier sitting here and munching over another superb Monday morning breakfast (bagels today…mmm). No better way to write a blog.
I just read an interview with director Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight, Insomnia). I regard him as a master story teller, even if I occasionally disagree with his directorial choices (Christian Bale’s incomprehensibly ‘realistic’ take on Batman’s voice, for example). In this particular article, he talks about his work with Leonardo DiCaprio in their latest collaboration, “Inception,” and how “[he] spent months with DiCaprio to find emotional logic for every moment and every decision in the story.”
Emotional logic. Every writer should fuse this concept into her subconscious.
If we are dictated by our emotions, our characters should be no different. Every action that a character takes is a reflection on his/her emotional state. I’m writing because I’m in a very good mood, a result of an exceptional weekend and a sentimental appreciation for bagels (my late mother used to send me off to school with them every morning). Although not everything I do is emotionally driven (I just scratched my head), the difference between real life and stories is that us story-tellers don’t have the luxury to waste time on non-emotionally driven actions. In other words, every word counts.
Nolan makes another fine point:
“I always start with story rather than characters. When I write I try to write from the point of view of defining a character through action. That way having the narrative shifts define what we think of the characters…I find that a really interesting and very strong form of characterization, but it means putting story first and then just seeing where that leads the characters.”
In the past, I’ve written that plot arises out of characters – but I’ve never considered the inverse: that a story creates the characters necessary to string it together. With the TDDC, I had three characters in mind: Lucy, Jack, and Lillian. When I went about creating the plot, I regularly abandoned outlines, relying instead on emotional cues to move the story forward. Themes, however, were always the primary impetus. Hope, salvation, and reconciliation took a front seat to the characters themselves, and, without my realizing it, shaped their actions into what ultimately became The Dead Don’t Cry.
Books tell stories, and in order to tell them effectively, their characters must be believable. But it doesn’t end there. Believability can only be transcendental when fused with larger, more powerful elements, like tone and theme, giving the simplest actions the greatest weight.
Come back next week for a more literal approach to character development, more Nolan, and even a writing exercise!