Thursday, September 10, 2009

Let's Get Real...

As I mentioned in my first post, one of my full-time writing gigs is reviewing movies. And as you can guess, that job is both a blessing and a curse. Yes, I get paid to watch movies (and don't even have to plunk down $20), but that also involves seeing a lot of flicks that stink to high heaven like All About Steve (see picture).

I'm mentioning this because we're talking about creating believable characters this week, something that particular movie didn't exactly have going for it.

I don't know if you've noticed this, but Hollywood screenwriters have a pretty hard time with coming up with believable characters. I mean, have you ever noticed that most of them are writers who do nothing but write the occasional op-ed piece and get paid piles and piles of money for doing so?

Yeah, right.

But whoever came up with Sandra Bullock's character in All About Steve really hit the unbelievability jackpot. After all, to get the idea that Mary Horowitz is "quirky" yet "comfortable in her own skin" across, that person really pulled out all the stops....

*Knee-high shiny red boots that Mary insists on wearing everywhere (even though she clearly should've left them in the Hot Topic window display where they belong)? Check.

*Bizarro-job, namely as the crossword constructor for the local Sacramento paper (hmmm, couldn't they simply recycle one of Will Shortz' masterpieces and save some precious money—they are a newspaper, a dying breed, after all) Check.

*No friends, but hamsters (yes, hamsters) that advise her on what to wear on her blind date with Steve? Check.

*Lame excuse for still living at home, namely that her place is being fumigated for a really, really long time? Check.

Ok, you get where I'm going with this, right?

Many writers, and you know when you've read them, create paint-by-numbers characters that feel straight out of a bad sitcom archetype. Sure, there's nothing wrong with quirkiness or having your particular creations break the mold, but it's still important to have something about them that resonates with your readers.

If they can't feel what your character is feeling and identify in some way, I'm thinking they won't venture beyond the first page, let alone the first chapter. I know I'm that way with books, and I have a high tolerance for cut-from-a-different-cloth people (yes, like Betsy, I can even figure out why everyone loves Twilight's Bella and Edward, and we're talking about a mortal being in love with a vampire here).

So if Stephanie Meyer can make that work, surely we can all create characters that have real staying power in our readers' minds. Since I tackled the ups and downs of falling in love in my novels, that was actually pretty easy to do because I sooo remember being there.

Even though I've been happily married for almost four years now, I can still remember the sting of unrequited love, the before-the-first-date butterflies, and if I ever forget, well, I have several obliging single girlfriends who'd gladly fill me in. When writing anything fictional that's going to connect, it's incredibly important to tackle universal themes like love with authenticity—and that can be as simple as taking a peek at your own life or doing a bit of people-watching.

In fact, it's my observations of human behavior (i.e. my college roommates, my former co-workers, those random types that frequent the local coffee shops) that have provided the best (and constant) inspiration for characters. When there's so much people-watching potential available at a variety of locales near you (I must say my recent 24 hours in Manhattan delivered in spades), there's really no excuse for unbelievable characters. If you're an observer of life and can somehow channel that into your writing, you'll win every single time whether you're writing about vampires or a girl who never seems to get the guy.



  1. The only reason I would see that new Sandra Bullock movie is because her co-star is ever-so-handsome. I hate movies with crap lousy characters. One of the reasons I liked HE'S JUST NOT INTO YOU is because I found the character of Gigi so intriguing...and in a lot of ways, she's like me.

    BTW, your characters are phenom. I still want to date Eli... :)

  2. Good thoughts!! Thanks! Bummer to
    hear the movie stinks =(

  3. I really enjoyed this post, Christa! Thanks!

  4. Thank you, thank you!! And Amy, even Bradley Cooper can't redeem that sad sack of a movie....

    But you can date Eli anytime...

  5. Great post! I love this blog, I've been reading every update since the beginning. I have a question, though. Would one of you mind giving an example of creating a character? What I mean is like, create one, or a couple, that would intrigue readers and explain why you're making him/her that way? I hope that makes sense... :)

  6. OK. Love your writing style. This piece not only had great info, but was very entertaining. Thanks!

  7. Thank you so much, BJ. :) I'm also a big fan of yours, too!