Wednesday, June 27, 2007

"What new devilry is this?" *

A regular reader got in touch:

"Recently, Anthony Horowitz had an article in the Daily Mail (5th June) about ‘why it’s impossible to create a modern day baddy’. As an example of the problem, he mentions how ‘depressing it is that Herod Sayle, the Lebanese businessman that Alex Rider fought in his first adventure, Stormbreaker, quietly morphed into Darrius Sayle, Californian trailer trash by the time the film came out last summer’.

I realise that this is an incredibly sensitive issue but it’s a genuine problem to the fledgling writer. I realised that issues such as race may be a problem back in 1992 when there was all that fuss over Candyman’s villain being black and so I have always been quite careful, however, I notice that there still seem to be some groups that a writer is allowed to have a go at: particularly Americans (can all 300 million really be evil?) but also yokels especially from the West Country (it seems we’re all thick, say ‘oo-ar’ and chew straw), Catholics or any fervent Christians.

Obviously, anything too controversial will put off potential buyers but how can you tell if something seemingly innocuous might be controversial? In your experience, how big a problem are these issues within the industry? What advice or guidelines would you give to the aspirant writer?

That's an interesting question! But I wouldn't get too hung up about it. It certainly wouldn't stop me from making a villain out of whoever I choose, whether they be white, black, Irish, American, whatever.

It's always good to avoid the cliché and stereotype by bringing some original or surprising characterisation to the villain, to either justify his/her cause, or make him an engaging multi-dimensional character where you understand their misguided motivations.

That's the key, when the character is convincing; then it doesn't matter who they are or where they're from - it's just part of their characterisation. Maybe Anthony Horowitz's situation was watered down because it's a studio picture, and perhaps some conventional sensibilities came into play.

But, usually, controversy is a good thing. And as a new writer, if you can grab someone's attention with a credible and convincing character, or set-up, then that's going to go a long way. There's nothing taboo anymore, on TV or film. Just go with your instincts and what you want to express. Let people be offended if they want but you've got to stick to your own conviction about your characters and story. Find your original voice. Don't be swayed by naysayers or prudes.

* Boromir, Lord of the Rings, written by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson


Azma said...

Sometimes I think putting a couple of different coloured baddies seems to work. Bit simplistic, maybe, but makes it fairer.

Anonymous said...

I sometimes wonder whether writers know different people or just watch TV (and think they do) ...

Gavin said...

Another way to go is to really give your bad guys their own journeys, often complimentary to the protagonist's. Real, meaty, dramatic progress to overcome. It's a slight dogleg since this is a TV example, not film, but 'Buffy' was always great at this: the simmering love triangle among the villains Angelus, Spike and Dru in season two was very satisfying, ditto the "evil" pseudo father/ daughter relationship btwn The Mayor and Faith in Season 3, which mirrored heroine Buffy's relationship with mentor figure Giles.
As well as being involving and fun in its own right this approach gives you the opportunity - in the future - to jump your villains over the fence and make them join the forces of light in some form, or forge those always-crackly "uneasy alliances" with your heroes to "battle a greater threat" (this sort of things happens A LOT in the Whedonverse).
Audiences really rooting for your bad guys as well, and having divided loyalties, can be a really interesting side effect (if you're lucky/ clever)
Also, Hi Danny. Been lurking for a while, first comment. Really thought-provoking and informative posts. Been jumping in on Lucy and Lianne's blogs, too, getting to know this little scriboblogocommunity. Great stuff all round!



Jon pc said...

I have certainly come to suspect that an increasing number of writers and TV/Film-makers don’t know a wide variety of people- now more than ever since the Media has become a career path: school, university, trainee, etc. This career path isn’t inherently bad but I suspect could probably contibute to limiting the amount of real-world experience. Of course, it happens in all walks of life: builders spend their days with builders; musicians with musicians; physicists with physicists, etc. The big difference is that writers are writing for an audience that could be made up of builders, musicians, physicists AND writers… and should probably have a vague idea about their thoughts, opinions and needs as well as those of writers.

Think about the wealth of characters you get in the work of the TV greats (my terribly biased opinion), Bleasdale, Potter, McGovern and to a lesser extent Nigel Kneale: you get the impression that they have done ‘other things’ and known other people. Then compare this with some of the equivalent recent prestige dramas: some feel a bit like the characters have been drawn from the ‘Big Book of What People Do and Think’.

While putting together A.I., Kubrick purportedly asked Brian Aldiss ‘apart from writing and directing what jobs do people actually do’.

Even if it was only a joke I doubt he’s alone.

Lucy said...

You've been spammed Sir Daniel.

Send me a logline or I'll send the boys round...

Oh come on, you love it really. Just a little logline...

Danny Stack said...

Hey, nice idea, Luce, but am prepping for the week ahead so will miss your deadline.

Lucy said...

If it wasn't for that pesky screenwriters' festival...