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.

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