Friday, December 23, 2011

Writing - Lesson 4 of 6: Characterization

Today's lesson's quote is a little long, but I do consider it worth the reading.  Please read it and consider it before continuing on.

"It is like this, my child.  The actor creates the whole length of a human soul's life on the stage every time he creates a part.  This human soul must be visible in all its aspects, physical, mental and emotional.  Besides, it must be unique.  It must be the soul.  The same soul the author thought of, the one the director explained to you, the one you brought to the surface from the depths of your being.  No other but that one.  And the character who owns this created soul on the stage is unique and different from all the rest.  It is Hamlet and nobody else.  It is Ophelia and nobody else.  They are human, that is true, but here the similarity ends.  We are all human, we have the same number of arms and legs and our noses are placed respectively in the same positions.  Yet, as there are no two oak leaves alike, there are no two human beings alike.  And when an actor creates a human soul in the form of a character, he must follow the same wise rule of Nature and make that soul unique and individual. ...Analyze now in detail the posture of your head, go to the galleries or look into books.  Look at Van Dyck, look at Reynolds.  Your arms and hands were natural and sincere, but I could have told you right away that those hands play tennis, drive a car, and when necessary, can broil a marvelous steak.  Study the hands of  Botticelli, of Leonardo, of Raphael...  ...By studying and making it your own.  By entering into its spirit.  Study the different hands.  Understand their weakness, their flower-life tenderness, their narrowness, their flexibility.  You can control your muscles.  Just curl your palm longwise.  Do you see hwo much narrower it is?  Two days practice and you won't even think about it, but whenever you want it, it will stay like that as long as you wish.  And when, with that kind of hand, you grasp your heart, it will be a different gesture than the one you made.  It will be Ophelia's hand clutching Ophelia's heart, not Miss So-and-So's hand grasping Miss So-and-So's Heart." (77-79)

So.  Long quote right?  I felt for understanding this chapter the longer quote was necessary.  He talks about "Characterization".  The woman he speaks to doesn't understand what he means.  She says the lines of the character and she wears make-up and costumes and that makes her the character she is supposed to be, isn't that right?  Here in this passage which is the heart of the chapter to me, he explains what he means by Characterization.  It is more than simply yourself that you are portraying in this, it becomes a character that can be played by any human who understands Opheilia and who can become her with the nuances of a gesture, a posture, a glance, etc.

Now I can feel you asking, how does this compare to writing a character?  I can feel the same questions come up as the actress had for B.  Surely if you write a character that character is already characterized.  So here is my question back for you, do your characters live and breathe on their own?  Do they inspire a different feeling in you, in your posture, even in the motion and ability of your hands?  If you've ever done any improve or Role Playing to figure out your characters you might notice something interesting that my husband and I have noticed.  With particular characters, once you're in their head, if you let yourself walk around as them or do an action as them you might find a peculiar thing happen.  I'm right handed, my husband is left, but we have characters who will instinctively grab things with their dominant hand if we're far enough into the characters with enough Concentration (see lesson 1!).  It's always a peculiar feeling to grab a pen with my left when I know I'm right handed but I find out the character is not.  Here then is the characterization that would be acted on the stage.  There is a deeper understanding not only of who the character is in regards to yourself, but who they are in regards to themselves.

It's something to keep in mind when you're creating a character.  The stronger you want the character to be the more individual it needs to be.  Would that character be able to speak in a crowded scene with no names mentioned and stand out as distinct?  Why, what makes it that way?  Is it the way he speaks or the way she stands?  Is it the way he carries on without end or the way she stands silently with minimal speech?  Why not write every character with the intention of making them so unique every time someone might go to act them they cannot help but notice these characteristics that define this person.  Help your reader to understand how individual they are by making them live beside and beyond yourself.  Study people outside of yourself in order to understand what other things your characters hold the potential to be.  You're only one small part of what they can become if you only let them!

Monday will be Lesson 5:  Observation.

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