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CREATIVITY + CHARACTERS (+ minor rant + touch of tequila)

April 28, 2009

I have been reading Nicola Griffith’s blog with some frequency recently, partly in gratitude for her getting me back to reading and the library and partly because we seem to dislike the same books. A recent answer about where she gets her characters’ names reminded me of interviewing Tamora Pierce. How to come up with names and characters is one of the things Pierce gets asked most often in Q + A sessions.

So this got me thinking about creativity and characters and how they take over whatever you’re working on and everything you’re thinking about…even when I’m directing a play as it seems exposure to weeks of The Miser aka L’Avare (and the impending interruption of my Financial Times subscription — newspaper vs. car payment, car wins) is making me grumpy about money and cynical about marriage (and I’m almost sentimental usually) — nearly every character is suggesting writing widowhood/widower status after three months or so into the wedding contract. So there’s the draft of a post titled “WHY THE ECONOMY HAS ALWAYS SUCKED FOR ARTISTS” sitting in a folder, but I really do prefer not to dwell on that sort of thing as I am happy with the active choices I’ve made to direct the plays I choose, film the movies I want and follow the characters that come to me (as well as have time for tea with Gayle when her insane work and sleep schedule allows). So instead of that rant, I’m channelling my energy into other posts (this and the previous and the haiku).

Back to characters, the flow of creativity and naming after that much briefer rant:

Jane and Sally at one point just took over In The Bleak December…I remember a couple of frustrating nights where Sally just insisted on behaving like herself and it was nothing at all like I had planned. That was extremely educational. Sally was inspired by an actual person so I kept her first name; Jane just seemed to go along with it. And Jane’s last name is lifted from a cool science fiction adventurer type I used to try to fit into something — Mycroft Holloway (first name after Sherlock Holmes smarter brother but the character was a girl). I find the naming process very exciting as I take time with the names and discovering the personalities that they connect to…

In the mystery I was recently working on — before the Muse that is comedy took over again — I have a completed first draft with a cool collection of four different narrators. Rereading it led me to the conclusion that the narrator I started with had to be excised and a character who only popped in a couple of times but brought so much energy with him needed to take over a third of the book and drive the sequel. Before the draft really took off, I had to sit down and connect a bunch of family and sibling dots.

I do family trees as a tool…I remember one of the grand fantasy narratives I wrote as a teenager involved complicated and intense family trees for both the human and horse characters.

For LONELY POND MONSTER (looking for love)…the process started with me being a preparation fiend and wanting to shoot a short before the big Shakespeare tangented project we were all excited about…so one friend said, “well, the place I’m staying at has a pond and we can film there” which turned into me ripping out a story about a Lonely Pond Monster who wanted to make friends by joining in activities and a Spinning Girl who was trying to fit in by changing her wardrobe…and there would be no dialogue because as it was my first movie and much as I love our sound and sound effects guru, he often has the same effect on me that tequila used to (there’s the book Jill Shaffer and I were going to write where each chapter started with “and then I took another shot of tequila” complete with the real time authors’ experience of the same — my poetry phases are always interesting) so I decided silent film with music, let’s emphasize my skill with directing physical comedy. And then LONELY POND MONSTER (looking for love) turned into two of my favorite weekends, a really cool story and a love for the process of movie making. And the Shakespeare tangent movie– well, that’s a story for daylight hours.

So basically, imagining characters, naming them and following them where they lead is one the best and craziest adventures there can be so enjoy it. They’ll thank you for it.

And now, I’m going to read part of a novel for at least six minutes. Good night all; dream well.

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