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Character matters

It seems to me that all the arts have had a lot to do with the way I write fiction. If the writer is made by reading, the artist is made by consuming culture in all its forms.


It seems to me that all the arts have had a lot to do with my way of writing fiction. If the writer is made by reading, the artist is made by consuming culture in all its forms. One day I want to talk about what I think education should be in the early stages of life and why they are only ideas of a vision of the world that will hardly be seen a hundred years from now. The current educational system is far from a cultural vision because it does not need free individuals.

And yes, reading has been fundamental in my life. Also having been formed intellectually in a profoundly cinematographic era where directors, like musicians, like writers, navigated a little beyond the narrative with a strong disposition to investigate the language, the structure, the semantics of the narrative.

That was extremely rich. It was marvelous, because true wonder must end up being constructed in thought. Now that there is no visual artifice that cannot be elaborated for cinema, the imagination has succumbed to the exhaustion of myths (repeated over and over again to the point of boredom).

It is interesting how incredibly complicated script knowledge has become, where it costs a world to make it halfway articulated for practical purposes. There are dozens of approaches and all, without exception, continue to layer on archaic concepts that responded to other narrative realities, especially those related to multiple deities with the duty of leading the hero into mistakes that they then colligated with their usual unwelcome powers. This is why contemporary superheroes are culturally exhausted characters.

I remember a movie from my childhood, Terri (N. Paul Kenworthy and Ralph Wright, Disney, 1957), about a squirrel chased by a marten for over an hour. Mind-blowing. At a time when there was no CGI: the story was built from documentary footage. 

A squirrel in this era can only sing and dance to look spectacular to the audience.

Recently, from about seven years ago until now, I have been following one of the, in my opinion, most intelligent series ever made, Westworld (HBO, 2016-2022). In a theme park about the American West some creatures, perfect human machines, created for the inhuman entertainment of very rich people, rebel against their creators. It is a fast-paced, moving and sobering tale, with some really incisive ideological drifts.

Westworld is a sci-fi story - with mattes and CGI everywhere - set at the other end of Terri. Between Westworld and Terri, a marvel called Le ballon rouge (Albert Lamorisse, 1956), a fine study of behavior through an object, a red balloon. And if we talk about human behavior I must mention the extraordinary Mon oncle d'Amerique (Alain Resnais, 1980), based on the evolutionary psychology research of Henry Laborit. 

Any conscientious writer easily understands that the functional mechanism of the story is the character, neither the protagonist nor the hero: the character.

The character is social

The great deficiency of the protagonist and the hero for the purposes of media dramaturgy is their individuation. The protagonist conducts a war against the elements, against his enemies and against the gods themselves ("With what clouds has Zeus closed the wide sky!" says Odysseus when it is Poseidon who moves the sea for him to succumb there in front of the land of the Phaeacians in Homer's Odyssey).

Capitalism has solidified the idea that the individual can do it alone. This is not true. No one reaches a degree of express fulfillment, be it cultural or economic, without having had at least some assistance. The discourse of "the power of one" is just that, a discourse. Individuality is always complementary. I will talk about this in the next entry.

And if a story is fascinating, the Odyssey certainly is, it is because the character has generated a sufficiently dense amount of information to compel another character. This is the real key to a good story: dense characters, existentially rich characters. Systems complementing each other, colliding, moving apart like planets within another system within another.

The writer thinks systemically because the character is a system.  

A system within another system

In practice a story does not make an impact by itself but thanks to its characters. When I watch Westworld it is not the temporal variations or the for me exhausted West that gives me aesthetic pleasure and entertainment, but the characters that make such abrupt twists necessary, causing a break in the mostly tiresome linearity of media stories.

The character, and here is where the value of a good quantitative development of the character is understood, carries a critical mass that makes it socially understandable. Let me explain.

The character compresses several aspects that give it consistency. This is usually solved by constructing a flowery and extensive biography so that the writer has something to draw on to make it work from a dramatic point of view. Certainly biographies are not always written. Many times the writer is working out those aspects that are expressed in the social dynamics of the character as he or she writes. That is an arduous path that can be comfortable for a few. And few, I assure you. 

In any case, writers who have understood the functional role of the character finish a work sooner.

As far as I am concerned, I am sure that the more advanced one is before starting the story, the better the chances of finishing it.

As I mentioned in another post, the Character Method (CM) has it very well solved with a very structured succession of steps. As for the character as a system, the writer needs to know what its vital components are, whether he uses them in the terms of the CM or keeps them gravitating as part of his resources while writing. This information includes, in addition to the biography, all the external signs that characterize the character and formative elements of the character.

In the CM these three areas form categories of their own. In this strict order they are: Social Behavior, Character Conditions and the Biography. The first shows those phenomenal components that define the character such as (apparent) age, height, build, color, hair color, type of hair, way of dressing and visible expressions of character, among others. In other words, Social Behavior expresses what the character appears to be.

Character Conditions is probably the most difficult category in this system. Once I explain it here - necessarily succinctly - it will be understood why the CM has overflowed its need for an effective system to encompass areas of study disturbingly outside its object.

Within this category the writer must understand the psychological underpinnings of those sociological mechanisms of social behavior. If, for example, our character suffered from a life-threatening illness during the first year of life, this would have resulted in a persistent overprotective mechanism (especially by the mother) that would lead to an Alexander the Great type of functioning. 

The CM has developed tools to understand this so that the writer can develop this dynamic in a short paragraph of about three or four lines. Since this is a separate category from Biography, there is no need for chronological ordering here. This category expresses the first four years of the character's life or its equivalent (for example, if it were an animal to which human justifications are necessarily granted). All this, needless to say, has its corresponding explanations.

As for the biography, what makes it a category under the CM is that it starts from the fourth year of the character's life (or its equivalent in other realms) and is told as a simple chronologically ordered story. 

Here details and the establishment of relationships with potential other characters will abound.

All of this will not necessarily be used although in the case of formats such as the literary novel or the series for digital media (which for me is the new novel), it is quite unlikely that any of these will be wasted.

So yes, character matters, that's why it's the motto of the CM.

Photo by Cottonbro Studio on Pexels

Author Said Orlando

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