I am doing draft two of my script proposal, and as ever am finding it hard to care about my characters! This has tripped me up on writing stories many times, I create them then I stop thinking about them really quickly. Well this time, I am using prompts to create these imaginary people, and turn them into substantial, full bodied characters.
Recently re-read Lady Windermere’s Fan, as I’m planning to go see it at the Royal Exchange Theatre, then I accidentally slipped into An Ideal Husband where Wilde visualises his character as part of the script:
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN enters. A man of forty but looking somewhat younger. Clean-shaven, with finely cut features, dark-haried and dark-eyed. A personality of mark. Not popular-few personalities are. But intensely admired by the few, and deeply respected by the many. The note of his manner is that of perfect distinction, with a slight touch of pride. One feels that he is conscious of the success he has made in life. A nervous temperament, with a tired look. The firmly chiselled mouth and chin contrast strikingly with the romantic expression in the deep-set eyes. The variance is suggestive of am almost complete separation of passion and intellect, as though thought and emotion were each isolated in its own sphere through some violence of willpower. There is nervousness in the nostrils, and in the pale, thin, pointed hands. It would be inaccurate to call him picturesque. Pictureesqueness cannot survive the House of Commons. But Van Dyke would have liked to have painted his head.
I love the detail of this profile, which Wilde gives as a way of introducing each character. I’m not sure any mortal being could live up to it, but you can see him perfectly, from the neck up! Wilde only forgot to mention his ears. When he says he has a ‘tired look’, I immediately create a back story for the character, worn-out husband being the first back story that springs to my mind. The whole piece is a way of providing a back story, and the separation of thought and emotion being conveyed by his mouth, chin and eyes is classic. Totally sums up Wilde’s obsession with how to marry the two, and why oh why must they be twain and not fused. He even goes to lengths of specifying which painter would have liked to paint his character, creating a further character profile as you imagine the colours and tones of the portraiture.
Ideas for how to create a character you care about about by enhancing their back story!
- Sign them up to an online dating website and create a profile for them. But remember to delete it.
- Once you’ve decided what job they are doing, ask someone in that job role questions about their daily routine, odd experiences, etc.
- Do a character profile based on what their favourite things are, ie favourite vegetable, favourite place to go. Once you’ve decided on their favourite meal you should cook it and then write your character’s experience of making it.
- I love the suggestion to write two character profiles, one for before the play and one for after, so that you can measure the emotional journey the character’s gone on and how they have changed in response to the events.
- Write an introduction for your character Wildean-style, emphasizing the physical description.
So there’s a few things I might try doing for my character Clive for instance, to get comfortable with the idea that Clive exists. Some of these prompts might cross the line between sanity and obsession, but the whole writing process is a bit strange really, and partly why I’ve avoided addressing my character issues is because I do not feel comfortable getting that involved with an imaginary person. But, I give in. Tonight I am making Clive cauliflower cheese (!).