Monday, November 20, 2006

Whose characters are they, anyway?

Seems I've heard a bit about this topic again, lately. Which led me to re-read Thomas Harris's Hannibal Which works because he's got a new Lecter book coming out soon, although I don't know that I'll bother to get it in hardback.

Everyone familiar with Silence of the Lambs? The book, or the movie?

See, here's the thing. When Hannibal came out, ten years or so ago now, there was this big uproar from a lot of people because of the ending. I don't know how to do that nifty invisible writing thing in case there's someone out there who hasn't read it, but honestly? It's been ten years. If you were going to read it, you would have, right?

So in the ending of Hannibal, Hannibal Lecter and Clairce Starling end up together. As in, together, like a romantic, sexual relationship.

Personally, I thought it was a great ending. I thought it was perfect. I thought the signs were all there in Silence and in Hannibal. It was a perfect progression of character.

But it seemd a lot of people thought it was terrible. Jodie Foster, for example. She refused to do the movie of Hannibal because of the ending. Then the producers of the film changed the ending, anyway. Why? Because Jodie didn't think Clarice would "do that".

Ummm...Jodie? Clarice isn't yours. You didn't invent her. You interpreted someone else's words. You interpreted what Thomas Harris chose to reveal about his character.

The only person in the world, the only existing person, who truly knows what Clarice Starling would and would not do is Thomas Harris. Clarice belongs to him.

No, we can't make our characters do things they don't want to do. We can try, but it feels forced. It reads wrong. We don't invent people and take them through their little imaginary paces, hitting points A and B as the story dictates. They grow and change on their own.

But the fact is, they're ours. We know those little characters better than anyone else in the world. Sometimes we hold things back from the reader, because they don't need to know it, but we know it. I know the heroine in my current WIP once had a guy in high school pretend he really liked her, and she knew it was a lie, but she went along with it for a while simply because she wanted to see what it was like to actually have people talk to her like she was a person and not a freak. Maybe I'll decide to let the readers know. Maybe it won't come up. But I know it. She told me, and now I keep her secret, and if later she sees one of those kids and decides to have her bodyguards beat the hell out of him--well, some might say it's out of character for her.

But I know some cuts don't ever stop bleeding.

What secrets have your characters told you? And what do you think about people who claim some characters "wouldn't do that"?


Anonymous said...

You are very wise and insightful, december. Just because our characters are fictional, doesn't mean they do not develop their own personality and come to life for the writer. It is the actor's job to play the part, not change it.

I don't know anything about the contracts writer's sign, but there is no way I would allow anyone to change the ending of my novel. Not even for a big fat movie contract (easy to say, I know). As far as Ms. Foster goes, I just can't fit her into a romantic role anyway. She comes across to me as a lesbian (in real life and movies -not saying she is) They should have signed Nichole Kidman (pause to pant) for the part and stayed true to the book. -JTC

Anonymous said...

In Moon Madness Nika has a miscarriage, not by her true love and mate, but by the man who killed him. But the story is already so sad I didn't feel it necessary to include that part.

Wait... lesbians aren't romantic??

Moving on... Selling out is not when you write what the fans like (they are, after all your fans for a reason) but when you start giving in to prima donnas like Foster there. Sure, it's her choice. But they're his characters. Funny, the Hannibal series is one of those where I love the characters but I didn't like the book. I hated Red Dragon. I gave the book the benefit of the doubt though and figured it was a head of the trend with "killers who are evil because they were abuse" that is very over done now.

Bernita said...

Lots, particularly about her husband and his illness. I only hint at it, but it makes her suspicious of a new relationship.
It depends. It's either (a) the writer didn't manage to pull it off, or (b) the reader is too ignorant/rigid about the ways people may act in a given circumstance.
Haven't read the book ( and won't) but I can think of several known psychological factors or syndromes that could produce that ending.

December Quinn said...

Thanks, JTC. That's exactly the way I feel about actors--they're supposed to play the part, they don't create it. Acting is a reactive art, not a creative one.

Couldn't agree more, Michele. Elizabeth George did something like this with one of her books--she changed something to better go with what was happening in the TV movies of her books (at least, so says rumor)--and I confess I don't know if I will ever buy another of her books. (Not just because of the rumor, because I hate what she did so much.)

I enjoy Thomas Harris's books, but think Red Dragon wasn't as good as Silence.

December Quinn said...

It depends. It's either (a) the writer didn't manage to pull it off, or (b) the reader is too ignorant/rigid about the ways people may act in a given circumstance.

I think in this case there's a C in there, too, Bernita--as in, C. People didn't read the book, they saw the movie, and so took their opinions about the characters from it.

And that's exactly what I mean--little things we know that inform the characters, that the readers doesn't need to know--but which may color their perceptions and actions.

Bernita said...

Um...I didn't see the movie either.

Robyn said...

I didn't read the books, and only saw the second movie under duress. I don't care how how fascinating or attractive the guy is- when he starts eating people, I'm outta there. NOT SEXY!!!

This is kind of weird- I've been acting since I was five years old, and I'm sorry to contradict you, but an actor does create (or help create)a character. Good actors, at any rate, bring things to a character, text and subtext, that are not there from a line of dialogue in a script. (A book is vastly different from a screenplay.) When you have poured your creative heart and soul trying to bring someone to life, you DO feel as if you own her. Jeez, you've had to BE her for months!

That said, I'm also a writer. And I agree, nobody knows my people like I do. If an actor portraying one of them disputed where I took the character, I'd probably tell him to do just what Jodie Foster did: don't be in the movie.

My current heroine is a vegetarian who goes on a beef binge once a year. I don't tell that. I haven't even made her vegetarianism clear, though there are clues.

S. W. Vaughn said...

Oooh, fantastic post! Lots and lots to think about here. :-)

I have seriously mixed feelings about this. I know my characters, of course. I know more about them than any reader ever will. Also, OOC moments are the best momentum stories ever get -- because not only do the characters do something unexpected, but their actions pave the way for insight into the things readers do not yet know about them.


I don't think Jodie Foster was right in saying that Hannibal had acted out of character. Most definitely, he belongs to Harris. BUT... I think Anne Rice totally wrote Lestat out of character in the last few books of the Vampire chronicles. Even though they are her characters, and she insisted in interviews that Lestat was "speaking to her" more strongly than ever.

Why I feel this way is difficult to say. I believe that to some extent, once you start publishing a series, with series characters who are meant to be familiar old friends throughout the novels, to some extent those characters are not completely yours any more.

You are sharing them with your readers. You're inviting readers to take these characters into their lives, to laugh and cry and be moved with them, and to change with them.

If the way you see your characters is completely different (and I'm talking different stratospheres here) from reader expectations, I think it's something of a cheat.

Jenn on the Island said...

I loved the ending of Hannibal. I read it before I saw the movie, and it just gave me one of those satisfied sighs.

Yeah, it's creepy and gross that he kills people and eats them, but it was the development of the relationship that I loved. It made Hannibal such a more...complete...(is that the word I want?) character.

And these people who live in my head do have lives of their own. They say things I didn't plan on, they do stuff that I never could have thought up on my own. My CP calls it 'character driven' stories. I just wish they'd tell me how it's going to end instead of taking me along for the ride.

Having almost always read a book before seeing the movie version of it, I know that things will be changed and left out, and actors will not look like the characters. (Tom Cruise as Lestat? No effin' way.) I think that writers of books who have their stories turned into a visual art form have to expect those changes. Personally, I don't want that to happen to my stories. I don't ever want to be forced by contract to say that I think something I don't. (No one will ever be able to convince me Anne Rice really thought that was a good idea.) And I'm not sure I would want to deal with the contract negotiations to gain the kind of control necessary to make those decisions.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post.

Anonymous said...

jenn, I know what you mean about Cruise being Lestat. In the book, Lestat is more like Troy Aikman -over 6ft, blond, and very healthy- if I remember correctly. I was very dissappointed. -JTC

Anonymous said...

I didn't read the books I'm afraid. But this blog came up as a topic of conversation between my hubby and I last night and we both felt that there was very obvious sexual tension between Starling and Lector in the first movie (he had't seen the second and I hadn't seen all of it, but I noted that it was there too.) We weren't surprised by the ending at all.

kis said...

Hannibal wasn't sexy beacause he ate people. He was sexy because he could look at Clarice, read her reactions, and see so much of her that over the course of one conversation, he probably learned more about who she was than people she'd know for years.

Because he understood her so perfectly, and because he admired the parts of her that she admired in herself, it was like she was laid wide open for him. It's hard to let someone that close without developing feelings.

I've read Silence, but not Hannibal. I can only assume there was a natural progression toward a romantic relationship over the course of the book. If that's the case, them ending up together would be the kind of conclusion that would give me the warm fuzzies. Okay, the warm, creepy fuzzies.

December Quinn said...

Right, Bernita, but you aren't running around talking about what the characters would or would not do, either!

Robyn, I've done some acting as well, and I do agree that after working on a character and playing the character you feel like you know the character intimately. I know there are lots of actors who invent backgrounds for their characters, whole secret pasts and motivations. However, they're still creating those pasts from the blueprint given them by the writer. Without the writer, the character would not exist.

I'm not denigrating actors, just saying they don't know the characters as well as the writer.

December Quinn said...

At what point in a series would you say the characters stop belonging to you, though, SW? I haven't read any AR books beyond...lemme seee...Queen of the Damned? so I can't comment on the Lestat character change. But then, AR believed her press a leeetle too much anyway, and became sort of a twit.

I agree that listening to the fans and seeing what their views are is important. As happened with the Elizabeth George books--diud I mention this here recently, or somewhere else?--I probably will not read any more of them, simply because what EG did to one of my favorite characters--actually, several of my favorite characters, one of whom I'd been waiting to read about for four fucking years--made me ill.

So yeah, it must be taken into account. But that's where the writers' responsibility comes in. S/he must make the reader believe it. This is why our characters can do things OOC (I love those moments too) but it has to at least make sense. Hints at the ultimate culmination of the Hannibal/Clarice relationship are heavy in both books, if you pay attention.

December Quinn said...

I loved it, too, Jenn. I'm so disappointed that the next book will be a prequel kind of book, instead of a continuation.

As far as movies go...honestly, I'm more of the Stephen King mindset, I think (although I so, so doubt this will ever be an issue for me.) The books are there, and they don't change. So somebody wants to give me pots of money to change my ending in a film? Go ahead. Just make sure I can say "They changed my ending". Or at least make sure I can keep my mouth shut if I think the movie is awful and not have to lie. Nothing in the world can convince me that JK Rowling really thought that boring piece of shit Prisoner of Azkaban movie was great. I think everyone gave it good reviews because the director is a media darling. The movie was crap. In a hat.

December Quinn said...

Thanks Erik!

I wasn't crazy about Tom Cruise as Lestat, either. She wrote the book with Rutger Hauer in mind, you know, but by the time of the movie he was too old. Shame, too.

I agree, Michele, and the tension was even more obvious in the books. In fact, you can look at them both as love stories and they work perfectly.

December Quinn said...

That's it exactly, kis. I always try to put a moment like that into one of my books--the "look how well they know each other" moment. Usually it's an argument. :-)

But yeah, that's sexy. When he sizes her up, and finds her not just worthy but appealing, and she gives as good as she gets--sigh.

Warm, creepy fuzzies indeed.

S. W. Vaughn said...

Ah! You've described what I couldn't, December. :-) It's the writer's responsibility to make the story believable no matter what their characters are doing.

Some writers *cough anne rice cough* just decide they don't have to, because they are far too famous to bother concerning themselves with their readers' opinions. They are creating Art with a capital A. Blech.

Jenn on the Island said...

Oooooo...Rutger Hauer as Lestat!!

I loved him in Flesh and Blood.

That would have been perfect.

I'll bet they could have done it if they wanted to. I mean, really, they turned a 5'7" brunette into a lithe 6 foot tall blond....OK, maybe not.

But still, he would have been perfect.

December Quinn said...

I LOVE him in Flesh + Blood, Jenn! And boy, you can't go wrong with full frontal Rutger, can you? Splendid.

I agree about Ann Rice, SW. I hope I NEVER start behaving the way she does.

Anonymous said...

In a very sick way, I loved how Clarice is unnerved in a sexy way by Hannibal in SOTL. When they are talking face to face. He's a wacko - but he's sexy somehow. And she obviously felt it too.

I only saw the movies, never read the books. But I think the lovey ending would have been great. In a sick way, but great.

My characters are mine - but if I write them well enough they do become their own people and I cannot make them do something out of character, no pun intended.

Just my .02

Robyn said...

Rutger Hauer. YUM.