Thursday, 13 June 2013

What I learnt about writing from Bruce Lee

How to create distinctive three dimensional characters PART 1
Last post, when I talked about POV I touched on something I really wanted to expand on.

"It then becomes crucial (and I believe this is true for every POV style) that the characters be distinctive and easily identifiable within themselves. They should have their own voice (including distinct language choice, way of speaking, syntax) as well as body language and mannerisms. You shouldn't need to say their name to feel their skin—and with 1st person you have no leeway not to achieve this." 

Easier said than done, right? Obviously, it happens when you have the misfortune of picking up a book where all the characters feel the same, or you read different books by the same author and they may as well be the same character dressed up with a different name. In my opinion overcoming this and insuring your characters are distinctive and three dimensional comes down to three things.
  • Your character's unique profile; Goals, motivations, background, and characteristics.
  • Authentic and informed body language and mannerisms
  • Authentic and informed dialogue and internal narrative
I'm focusing on the second two points, because I think the first is rather obvious—the second two are harder.

Part 1 - Authentic and informed body language and mannerisms
So where does Bruce Lee come into it you ask? Well... I was lucky enough to be sitting next to my husband one day when he was watching a Bruce Lee documentary. It was pretty interesting but then suddenly something happened that was a total light-bulb moment.

A clip came on of a young Bruce Lee being interviewed; and man did that guy drip swagger. I mean he oozed it from every pore of his body. I had to sit forward and watch him. He spoke to Hollywood big shots like he was king of the world, like it was their privilege to be speaking to him (and just think about the context­. 1960's America and the number of Asian's on—or rather not on— television).
They asked him a question, and he raised one brow slightly, turned his head a little and shot the camera such a look of supreme masculine confidence that nearly fifty years later it was able to jump out of the screen and hit me in my errr thinking bits. He then stood, subtly rolled his shoulders, adjusted a lapel of his jacket, and spoke with an elegant sweeping hand gesture.

It was just wow—a complete lesson on confidence, masculinity and body language. I know without a doubt that if the author I talked about in my last post had written her hero with even a hint of this kind of unspoken masculinity, I would never have mistaken him for someone with a vagina—even if the POV change hadn't been identified.
But if that was not enough of a writer's gold mine, it got better. Yeah, better. Another clip comes on and this time my guy Bruce is talking about Chinese Opera. He proceeds to show the camera how in Chinese Opera characters can be immediately identified by the way they walk. A warrior walks with distinct powerful movements and a scholar (who he refers to as weaklings but we scholars will kindly ignore this) has a more effeminate walk.

Here's a clip of that interview. It's long so you might want to jump ahead to about the three minute mark.

Now, I don't mean the walks he demonstrated should be applied to modern fiction. Not at all. But the concept, the idea that characters very walks should serve to identify them is completely transcendent.

So the point is, your character's every moment should embody who they are. Don't tell me your hero is a playboy SHOW ME HIS SWAGGER!
Talking about swagger, I think this video clip for Blurred Lines is the very epitome of playboy swagger. Yeah I know it's sexist and objectifies woman, shush. I'm talking about characterisation and this hits the nail for a certain romance hero type that begs to be reformed. Watch out Mr THICKE I will be writing about you—prepare to be domesticated.  

Writers make YouTube your best friend. Want to know how a high-powered attractive CEO moves, their expressions, gestures? Find a clip of someone like Mark Bouris speaking. Want to know how a supermodel moves? Well, you get the picture.

Happy viewing.

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