Monday, April 25, 2011


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?


PatRemick said...

Enjoyed your post -- and the trailer. I need to watch that movie again! You also have me thinking about my characters because I usually don't mind killing them, which means either I am extremely callous or my characters don't have enough redeeming qualities for me to care. Better think about that!

Annette said...

I just added STRANGER THAN FICTION to my Netflix queue. How on earth did I miss seeing it before?

Anyhow, I love Alan Rickman. Pity you couldn't use him. He was the most deliciously dastardly Sheriff of Nottingham in that otherwise so-so Robin Hood movie with Kevin Costner.

I did run into a situation a few years ago when I realized I had to kill off a character who I'd fallen a little bit in love with. OK, a lot in love with. It was sheer hell. I hope when it gets published, my readers will shed half as many tears reading it as I did when writing it. And I fear I may have to do the same with a character in my current WIP. Dreading it.

C.L. Phillips said...

What a great stretch for a writer. Be sure to let us know how it turns out. I enjoyed your post.

Gina said...

Annette -
Yes! Alan Rickman was a wonderfully dastardly Sheriff, but then he's been great in everything I've seen him in. The film itself was so uneven, though. Kevin Costner and his merry band seemed like 20th century Americans plunked down in Sherwood Forest, while Alan Rickman and Geraldine McEwan were all over-the-top Shakespearean craziness. Poor Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (Maid Marion) was left straddling these two worlds - and managing to do a good job of it, too. I hope you enjoy STRANGER THAN FICTION. It's one of my favorite films about writing.

Joyce said...

Looks like an interesting movie! You'll do a great job, Gina.

As for Robin Hood movies, I prefer Mel Brooks' Men in Tights. It's hysterical, and even more so if you've seen the Costner version of RH.

I killed off my protagonist's best friend in my last manuscript. It was tough, but it had to be done.

Annette, you'd better not kill off anyone I like!

Annette said...

Gina, I agree wholeheartedly with you regarding that Robin Hood movie. But it's fun to watch just for Rickman and McEwan. He was also wonderfully evil in Quigley Down Under. But as you said, he's terrific in all sorts of roles.

Annette said...

Joyce, I make no promises. ;-)

Patg said...

You take some very interesting courses.

Gina said...

I lead a very boring life, so I need to go out and do thinga to make it seem interesting. Just wait until I get around to posting about the class I'm scheduled to teach this summer.

Gina said...

I bet you all guessed that "thinga" should have been "things." Right?

Ramona said...

Gina, you do do fun stuff! And "thinga" is a proper word if you follow it up with "mabob."

STRANGER THAN FICTION is an excellent movie. It really bends your mind to possibilities.

For Alan Rickman fans, has anyone see "Truly, Madly, Deeply?" One of my favorites, and that one bends your mind, too.

To keep on topic, in fiction, characters must die. It hurts the creator more than the character, but the real goal is to hurt the reader.

Gina said...

Right, Ramona. Alan Rickman does a spectacular job as the dead boyfriend in TRULY, MADLY, DEEPLY. Really shows that he can play good guys just as well as he plays villains, although his Colonel Brandon in SENSE AND SENSIBILITY demonstrates that as well. And of course, there's Snape in the Harry Potter films.


Those of us who have read the books know that he's the true romantic hero.

NancyM said...

Gina, you have all my respect! Wow, what a way to challenge yourself.

I think author-actors Kathleen George and Kathryn Miller Haines are doing an acting improv session at our Pennwriter conference in May. Be there or be square.