by Gina Sestak
"Murder your darlings." We've heard that command before. It generally refers to slaughtering our favorite words and phrases. I'm using it in a different sense today. I'm talking about killing off our characters.
Don't think for a minute this is easy. Characters are real to us. They live within our minds, offer guidance on our plots, let us know their innermost desires. Killing them can be traumatic for the writer.
Let me back up a little and explain why I'm writing about this on a rainy Monday morning. I'm not in the process of disposing of anyone in my WIP, thank goodness. That's hard enough. No. Today I'm finishing up another kind of project.
I've mentioned before that I've been taking classes at Pittsburgh Filmmakers. I've just completed a short course on Screenplay Character Development and am in the process of finishing up the final project for Advanced Acting for the Camera. That's where the murdering comes in.
Let me back up even further. Last year I took an Acting for the Camera class. It was a horrifying experience, not only because I look so utterly dreadful on screen, but because the camera picks up and emphasizes every flaw in a performance, no matter how minor. It's frightening to watch. That class required a final on-screen monologue, lifted from a real movie. The idea wasn't to imitate the actor who'd originally done the scene, but to do it as if you had been cast in the part. I chose to take my scene from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, the section where the old witch (played brilliantly by Geraldine McEwan in the original) warns the Sheriff of Nottingham about what the future might hold and tells him the truth about his background. It worked out fine. I got an "A" in the class.
For the present class, students were required to pick a particular actor to study. Of course, as those of you who have been reading my posts about my Bollywood addiction might suspect, my first choice was Shah Rukh Khan.
The instructor wouldn't let me use him. His films aren't in English, for one thing, although he does have some spectacular monologues in Hindi. I had to find somebody else. I thought about another favorite, Alan Rickman,
but he doesn't have that many monologues to choose from and I didn't think I could get away with spending three minutes on screen looking shifty-eyed. I finally settled on Emma Thompson.
Which brings me back to the topic of this post. The obvious choice of monologue would have been the scene from Sense and Sensibility when Elinor reveals to Marianne that she really does have feelings. I didn't make the obvious choice because another scene was calling out to me, a scene from Stranger Than Fiction. Has everybody seen that film? It's brilliant. Emma Thompson plays a writer, Karen Eiffel, who --- But let's just watch the trailer:
See the connection? For my final project, I will be performing a monologue about trying to figure out the best way to kill off Harold Crick, a scene we can all identify with.
Wish me luck, okay?