Monday, May 2, 2011

CASTING AGAINST TYPE

Theatre director and writers or their characters will often cast against type. Think about the sweet, innocent child who wrecks havoc on his playmates and siblings—a monster who cannot be saved by parents, priest or psychiatrist. Example: The Bad Seed written by William March, later made into a film, where a mother begins to believe her child could be a cold-blooded murderer.
And who hasn’t written or read about the handsome, personable and—oh yes—intelligent man—unfortunately a serial killer—who revels in matching wits with detectives, police or the FBI? There’s a prime example in Dr. Hannibal Lecter, starring in a series of horror novels, penned by Thomas Harris. How many readers fall for the virginal, usually blonde ingénue whose obsessive love, jealousy and neediness will ruin the lives of people whose lives touch hers. Read Leave her to Heaven written by Ben Ames Williams—another novel to film with Gene Tierney, Jeanne Crain and Cornell Wilde.
The affectionate relative or teacher who turns out to be a pedophile? Or not? Doubt—a play written by John Patrick Shanley kept audience members debating for days after they left the theater. Did Father Flynn molest the boy or was Sister Aloysius, a woman of iron convictions, accusing an innocent man who was guilty of nothing but befriending the child and personalizing the priesthood?
The bad stepmother has been handed down from old folk tales—what about Snow White and her jealous stepmother—the Queen—characters written by the Brothers Grimm. Books that tell us about the good stepmother who gives her all? There aren’t many. One that stands out is Butterfly’s Child by Angela Davis-Gardner. The story takes place after the geisha Cio-Cio San kills herself leaving her child Benjie to her lover—the child’s father and his new American wife. The author’s inspiration—Puccini’s opera—Madame Butterfly. Perhaps more books are waiting to be written about the good stepmother.

When my creation twists, turns and changes the route I jotted down so carefully—I have to pay attention. A call from my character may be a surprise—sometimes pleasant, sometimes not—that alters the course of my book. I try to be ready to embark on an entirely different escapade. A not to be missed venture into the unknown.

How do you handle your characters?

12 comments:

Toni Anderson said...

I loved the Thomas Harris books. I really enjoyed an episode of Criminal Minds where they'd cast these two kids as killers and at first you think the one kid is the brains of the operation, and then you realize that the other guy is SO smart he's pretending to be the 'slow' kid and the follower who doesn't really understand the operation.
AND, the movie THE USUAL SUSPECTS, I think that works so well because they cast against our expectations of 'type'.
Maybe :)

MaureenAMiller said...

I think as a writer just starting out you can fall victim to stereotyping. But that phase passes quickly because as you're writing you are attempting to entertain yourself before you endeavor to entertain others.

Characters with twists just make me smile. There is nothing more exciting than to sit back and think, "Wow! I didn't expect them to do that."

Kathy Ivan said...

I love stories where at first you think one character is the villain when in reality the real villain is so against character as to make the twist totally unexpected. They're the type of reads that always make you stop and think about what you are reading, and sometimes I'll go back and read again to make sure I didn't miss any of the clues scattered through the story.

Thanks for an interesting blog post.

Rita said...

What you describe is what most call high concept. Take the ordinary and give it a twist. Remember they always said Star Wars was a Western set in space? A new movie IS aliens in the old west. What about a President who goes blind but gains the ability to read minds or foresee the future?
Even the visual of a character can make things more intense. You mention Hannibal Lecter. In the movie The Silence of the Lambs, think of all the Hollywood tough guys the director could have picked to play Lector. Each and everyone, evil, and diabolical. He chose Anthony Hopkins, a five-foot- six, middle aged, English Shakespearian actor whose only screen roles to date had been portrayals of gentle men. The performance Hopkins gives is chilling.

Wynter Daniels said...

Good post. The easy route is to stereotype. It takes a much more skilled author to cast against type but it's so much more interesting.

Elise Warner said...

Thanks for your comments everyone. One of my characters threw me yesterday in the last chapter of a first draft. I have to admit he was right.

Marcelle Dubé said...

I'm with Kathy in that I love it when a character I initially disliked or mistrusted turns out to be the true hero. And I agree with Rita about brilliant casting. Nobody would ever have believed that Patrick Stewart would ever have been chosen to play the role of Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Starship Enterprise. And yet, he was the *perfect* choice.

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Carol Stephenson said...

I've learned to listen to my characters. Sometimes when they throw me a curveball, I'll sit back and let them talk to me in a monologue. They usually pipe up when I'm trying to take them down the wrong path or make them do something they wouldn't.

Anne Marie Becker said...

I love it when my characters surprise me. Had that happen on my most recent book, when someone I thought was a minor character turned out to be the villain. That was a shocker I didn't see coming. LOL

Elise Warner said...

Writing is a grand adventure, isn't it?

Clare London said...

That's *exactly* what I love, reading and writing that twist - and this genre is one of the best of all for it!

It astounds me that I can still be caught out, too. I rather like that naivety LOL. My 21yo son is rather more cynical - he spotted the twist in Shutter Island (movie) within 20 minutes *spoilsport* - but The Usual Suspects kept him guessing until the end :).