I am a massive Ghostbusters fan, and I have been for quite some time now. When news of the Paul-Feig-directed reboot came up in the world, I had fixed feelings about it. However, when I heard that the reboot would include a star-studded cast of powerful ladies, I got a little more excited. I was optimistic, if not cautiously so.
You see, for the longest time—and I’m sure you’ve noticed this—women haven’t exactly had the most coveted roles in film and television. Maybe you’ve heard of the Sexy Lamp Test. Basically, what this “test” does is ascertain the strength and depth of the female characters in any given medium. If the character can be replaced by a sexy lamp with no real issues or effects on the plot, then the female character is considerably lacking in depth. Any women who do have some kind of depth are usually relegated to familiar, comfortable roles, such as the shopaholic, the ditz, the slut, the nerd, and the sexy sidekick.
Ghostbusters changes all of that. In the female-led, character-driven reboot, Feig puts Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones in positions of respect. Wiig, McCarthy, and McKinnon all play intelligent, capable scientists, while Jones’s character puts in hours as a long-suffering MTA employee who works hard to do her job no matter what—even if that means confronting some ghosts. These characters are not only women I could see walking down the street day after day but also most definitely worth looking up to. I kept thinking, I want to be her when I grow up, even though I’m already (technically) grown-up.
Another thing I love about the film is its depiction of female friendship. Throughout the movie, the Ghostbusters develop a close, familial bond built on trust and mutual admiration. There are no love triangles, no catfights, no betrayals or name-calling. Instead, the woman cheer each other on, utilize each other’s strengths to work together as a team, and help each other out in every battle that takes place. I can’t remember the last time I saw female characters in a movie getting along like this. It is such a refreshing change of pace.
— Briana Mae Morgan (@brianawrites) July 19, 2016
What I love most about Ghostbusters is its potential to change popular culture. If the film does as well as I hope it does commercially, it serves as a statement to Hollywood that people want female-led films. We want to be entertained, certainly, but we also want to see strong, capable female characters banding together to save the world. We want to see friendships, teamwork, and heroism. More than anything, we want to see women who are real.
When developing female characters, I hope to keep in mind the way I felt emerging from the theater after watching the new film, and that is triumphant. Ghostbusters succeeds not only at an entertainment level, but also from a cultural-critique perspective as well. It serves as the spark that could ignite the powder keg of traditional, male-driven filmmaking, and more than anything, I want to be around to witness that explosion.
In my last blog post, I mentioned that I’d learned a lot about Sean by writing a journal entry. Since a few of you requested to read the entry, I’m happy to oblige. Some of the original entry contains spoilers, so I’ve only included part of it below. Still, you should be able to get a grasp of his character. Small content advisory, on account of language. Enjoy!
Fucking bastard could’ve told me long ago that he was dying. We could’ve gotten him some fucking help—I don’t know where, but we could’ve done. Bloody selfish git.
I can’t fucking believe it—first my parents, then my sister, now Jay and maybe Maia. Everything I love is falling apart. The only good thing I’ve got going is Melanie—the girl that I fancy beyond conscious thought. She keeps my world spinning. She and Jay have always kept me grounded.
If I lose him and Maia, I’ll lose some of the only people who remember me.
And I know Melanie will take it harder—though I hate to admit it, she’s closer to him. At one point, I know they fancied each other. Part of me wonders if I should let him have her. I love her, but I would do whatever it took to make him happy. If he knows how much he means to me, maybe he’ll be keener to look for a cure.
I’m a total arsehole, but I can’t fucking help it.
My best friend is dying, and I’m so scared of being all alone.
As you can see, it doesn’t take much writing to make progress. Before this exercise, I saw Sean as selfish. I didn’t see why he lashes out at everyone around him. Now, I understand. He’s using anger to mask his fear, to keep his friends from seeing how terrified he is.
I understand Sean now. I can see why he acts the way he does. In turn, that helps me portray him more accurately; more authentically.
As writers, authenticity is something we should strive for.
What do you think of this exercise? How do you get to know your characters?
Learn how one journal entry changed @brianawrites’ perception of one of her characters. (Click to tweet)
I’ve gotten so far into my first draft of BLOOD AND WATER that I know my characters better than I know myself. I can tell you who like what and why and how, who belongs with whom, how he got that scar, how she learned to drive… you name it, I’ve probably got an explanation for it.
Today, though, I realized I didn’t know my characters as well as I thought. My story came grinding to a halt in the middle of a scene. I was paralyzed. I couldn’t write. What was wrong with me?
Luckily, I remembered a post my friend and critique partner Rae had written about interviewing your characters. My other friend, Stephen, recommends writing journals to figure out your character’s thoughts and feelings. I had nothing to lose. I decided to try both.
For me, the journal exercise seemed to be the most effective. The interviews were nice, but I wondered how much of it I was leading, rather than letting happen organically (that sound absolutely crazy unless you are a writer). Without spoiling anything, I’d like to share some things I learned about my characters as a result of this effort.
Before starting, the character I knew the least about was Sean. He’s hotheaded, explosive, and prone to melancholy. I’ve never written anyone was moody as him. At the same time, Sean can be downright charming around his friends. I didn’t know how to reconcile both sides of his personality.
That’s where the character journal came in. I put on my novel playlist, closed my eyes and thought for a minute, and then opened them and got to work. My fingers flew over the keyboard, keeping time with the music. I forced myself not to hesitate. I didn’t let myself edit. After all, these were not my thoughts and feelings – they belonged to Sean, and who was I to censor them?
Most of Sean’s entry contained explicit language. That’s because it’s a diatribe against the unpleasant reality of the narrative (vague to keep from spoiling). While writing, I learned that he isn’t selfish at all, as I had assumed. He isn’t angry for the sake of being angry, either. So many people he loves have died already, and he can’t bear the thought of losing anyone else. He doesn’t want to be alone, and whenever he thinks he might be, he lashes out in frustration.
Moreover, he doesn’t want anyone to worry about him, so he masks his fear with anger.He’s loyal and would do anything to make his friends happy; he’s an absolute people-pleaser, which makes his behavior even more problematic. He doesn’t see that his actions are driving away the people he loves most in the world, the only ones who can save him from being alone. He feels them pulling away, and he doesn’t know why. He’s absolutely terrified. Who wouldn’t be?
Once I finished writing, I was ready to dive back into the novel and finish the scene. Armed with understanding and a renewed appreciation for my characters, I finished my session in record time and had to fight the urge to keep going. I wanted to end things on a high note, feeling confident in my abilities again.
The next time you can’t wrap your head around a character, try talking to them. Ask them how they feel, what they think, and why they do what they do. If you don’t want to come up with questions, feel free to let them vent. Little by little, they’ll reveal themselves to you.
How do you get to know your characters? What do you think of this technique?
.@brianawrites struggled to get a grasp on her characters. Then, she discovered this helpful technique. (Click to tweet)