Adaptation Series: From Screenplay to Novel; Part Three: The Cast

As promised, following is an email I sent to Raul and his responses to my questions regarding character:

Me: Alright, basically I need a breakdown of the characters. Physical descriptions and their personalities. If you could, I need the most information about Zachary, Jacqueline, Michael, and Daniel. You have a lot of background information on Zachary in one of the scenes, but I need more. Tell me what kind of person (angel) he is. What are his limits? What does he believe in? What are his greatest weaknesses? Greatest strengths? If you were to have a conversation with him about ethics, would he be more cynical or optimistic? What is his biggest secret?

These are just some questions to get your brain moving. Anything you want to tell me about them will be helpful.

Once you get this back to me, I’m going to do a “test” chapter. I’ll write a scene in prose form and I’ll need you to let me know if I’m making the characters act or think a way that is outside of the way you imagined them. I want to be as consistent as possible.

Raul: Ok, physically, all the angels and demons appear to be mid 20’s to early 30’s. They are all fit and slightly above average height, except for Levi who is much taller and more muscular than all of them. If they are all around 6′, Levi is 6′ 8″. They all have darkish long hair. Zach a lighter brown and Dave is dirty blond. No pony tails or curls. Think pre Darth Vader Anakin for length, but more grunge band, less blown dry.

They all wear darkish clothes and dark over coats, as if to hide wings, but there are no wings until they want them.

Zach and Dave are scruffier in the face than the rest who are clean shaven, except for Levi who has a painted-on looking beard and mustache. Michael should look like a rich, upscale version of the rest of them, and Dave would seem a little poorer and more disheveled than the rest.

I will leave you with that for now and think on the rest. Writing for what people see is much more shorthand than really writing so most of my answers will not have existed before you asked the questions. I just have to revisit the script and see where it takes me.

Raul (In a later email): Jacqueline is in her mid twenties, sandy blonde. Very fit and pretty but sportier than girly. I see her as a community college girl who has some sort of office job that is beneath her brains. No relationship or much dating. Has fun with her friends while working toward some kind of career. She questions everything and could probably be a lawyer, but her aspirations aren’t quite that high.

Zach and Mike have always been best friends. Still are, but Zach started feeling sorry for himself some since getting demoted and it affected the friendship a little. I would say for plot’s sake that Zach’s biggest weakness is sympathizing with humans rather than just doing his job. That could also be his greatest strength if you tilt your head to the left a little. [This little gem is why I’ve been telling him he should write prose, too. He has a talent for metaphor.] He believes in doing what’s right, even if he gets in trouble for it.

I see the angels as living solely for the job of keeping our fates in line. Their limited spare time is simply spent quietly admiring the world, and humorously discussing things they observe about us, like in the opening scene. I think of that scene in CITY OF ANGELS where you see all the angels on the beach just watching the sunrise. Kinda like that, but mixed with being modern and having a sense of humor. The job is really all there is for them.

Dan is purposely an enigma for obvious reasons. We shouldn’t know much about him except that he is easily bored and seems to get along well with angels. I see him almost salesman-like in the way he jokes and tells the angels things “on the down low”. He is liked by the angels he hangs with, but they notice that quality about him. They just figure it’s a demon thing.

That’s all I got, and its more than I needed the movie watcher to know, so, if you need more, feel free to interpret anything deeper however you see fit, and hit me with anymore questions as they come up.

So far, the most interesting aspect of this whole process is the difference in the character development process. While screenwriters (Thanks, Paul for clarifying) have a limited need for development as long as there is a solid character arc for the protagonist to follow, other fiction writers require a solid character background. You could even say we over develop – some, if not most, of the background we make up for our characters never make it into the story, except to provide a hidden justification to their actions.

Now that I have a character basis, a sample chapter is soon to follow. I’ll be sending it to Raul to ensure that I’ve gotten the tone and his vision correct, then pass it on to you kind people to massacre.

To be honest, I’m a little nervous about it – the writing, not the massacre. I’m used to those. It should be noted that I am keeping in my head the fact that this screenplay is someone’s baby. As a writer, I understand the anxiety that comes with someone picking apart your work. So, my cuts will be made swiftly and with a sharp blade. It’ll hurt me more than it hurts him. I hope.

Adaptation Series: From Screenplay to Novel, Part Two: First Obstacles

Welcome to part two of my effort to adapt the screenplay “Guardians,” written by Raul Fernandez, into novel form.

Over the last couple of days, I gave the screenplay a first read through – making notes on nearly every page about questions I have regarding scenes, where chapters should end, and what I’ve discovered about the characters as I’m reading. During the read through, I determined my first three big obstacles:

First:

I had no idea who the protagonist was until the inciting incident occurred, which was the screenplay equivalent of almost three chapters in. Atrocious, right? Well, not really. Screenplays aren’t meant to be read. They’re meant to be watched. So, while the protagonist, Zachary, made his appearance in the first scene – a must as far as prose is concerned – his role of protagonist was unable to be determined just from reading dialogue. But, if this were to be watched on the screen, camera angles and usage would show the audience right away who the protagonist is.

Solution: An appropriate POV. I’ve decided on third person omniscient for this project for a few reasons; the first and most important being that the protagonist is not in every scene. So, first person was not an option. Zachary will, of course, be given the POV character role in the scenes where he appears.

Second:

Flashbacks. Perfectly acceptable, and highly effective in screenplays; not so much in a novel.

From The Writers’ Companion by Carlos J. Cortes and Renee Miller:

“We advise avoiding flashbacks whenever possible. Not only does a flashback hinder the pace, it stops the story action by taking the reader back in time where events are finished. Going back in time can never have the immediacy of the present in the story. In addition, there is nothing worse than wasting five minutes reading something that has absolutely no relevance to the active progression of the story.

Of course, there are times when flashbacks enhance the story and can’t be avoided. But if we do need to use them, we must try to the limit the flashbacks to one or two per novel.”

“Guardians” has an entire scene devoted to flashbacks of Zachary’s tasks as a Guardian. While the editor in me screams “get the axe!” the information contained in the flashbacks is important to the understanding and development of Zachary’s character. He commits a pretty big act of rebellion, and not for the first time, so the reader must be given a chance to understand his way of thinking – why he would act the way he does.

The solution to this one will take some thought. I can safely say that at least one flashback will remain, but I will have to determine which is the most necessary and how I can distribute the information contained in the others through different avenues.

Third:

These are not my characters. While I can make assumptions about who they are based on how they interact with each other and on their own, I cannot be certain that these assumptions are correct. Should I need to add events/interactions/conversations (which is more likely than not) I will need to know that the characters would indeed act that way.

Solution: An interview with the writer. Watch for my next post for the entire transcription of the interview.

So far, an eye opening process. I hope you’ll continue to follow me through my journey.