Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Role ‘em …

You’ve done the impossible - sold your book/series for the screen. Who would you choose (living or dead) to play your protagonist? Why?

by Dietrich

I’m negotiating a film deal now, but it’s a bit early to say much about it. One thing’s for sure, it’s always exciting to imagine something I wrote ending up on the screen. The director of the proposed project did ask who I saw playing the characters and I did share my ideas.

When I come up with characters, I sometimes fan through photos in newspapers and magazines, finding the right images. It’s a starting point and it helps me to build them and begin to name them and to create backgrounds. It’s all part of the process of getting to know my characters in depth. Some characters have been partly based on actors or personalities living or dead. Sometimes they’ve been a combination of people real or imagined. Once or twice, a character’s been based partly on somebody I’ve known, but most of the time they’re imagined from scratch, a bit of this and a trait of that.

As I write the scenes, the characters begin to flesh out, and I get a sense of who they are. Sometimes the original idea shifts a bit, but usually by the second draft, I’m not referring to those original character images anymore. The characters have come to life, and it gets easier and feels truer writing their actions and dialogue.

There have been books and their film adaptations that I’ve loved, and I’ve sometimes been delighted, and sometimes disappointed by who was cast to play the characters I had imagined when I originally read the book the film was based on. Then there are those great films that did every ounce of justice to the books they were based on: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, No Country for Old Men, The Shining, To Kill a Mockingbird would be high on my list.

As for characters, I couldn’t imagine a better Severus Snape as the Harry Potter books made their way to the screen. Alan Rickman was absolutely the perfect choice and just the way I pictured him back when I was reading those books to my then young son. Or how about Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy? And you couldn’t come up with a better pregnant police chief than Frances McDormand in Fargo. There are actors who just own their roles. Think of Ian McKellan as Gandalf, or Maggie Smith as The Lady in the Van, or Denzel Washington in Fences, and the list goes on.

When I send a story off to be considered for publishing, the characters I had been working with for probably a year are then allowed to fade from memory as I start the next story, and the whole process starts again, this time with new characters and situations. My stories to date have all been stand-alones, so there have been a lot of characters that I’ve set loose in my make-believe worlds. And from the time a story gets submitted, and it finally makes its way to the store’s bookshelves, it could be two years later. So, those character notes and clippings that I collected are always good to go back over before I do an interview or when I need to read at a live event — or in the event that someone asks me who I would choose to play my protagonist. 


Susan C Shea said...

I do the same thing in creating characters:if they're not based on real people, I find an avatar, someone whose image and maybe even film presence stands in for my character until I get to know her better, at which point the avatar fades. But the real news here is you are - gasp - possibly going to do this for real. Fingers crossed for you, dietrich!

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Thanks, Susan.