“Introducing the Players”

I can’t remember if I’ve talked about Nero Wolfe before. If I haven’t, please excuse me while I hyperventilate in disbelief, because Nero Wolfe is flamin’ amazing.

“Book or T.V. Nero Wolfe?” you ask me.

“Both,” is my reply. “Both, my sprightly word-lover.”

My first introduction to Nero Wolfe was in book form, with Rex Stout’s novels. I still love them, and I still re-read them (and gasp excitedly whenever a newly-converted-to-kindle book that I haven’t been able to find at the library comes up on my Amazon storefront). I could really rave for ages about how awesome Wolfe and Archie are, and how much I enjoy the books. I’m not going to do so, because that isn’t the point of this blog post.

No, for this blog post, I’m going to talk about the T.V. version of Nero Wolfe (and a couple other things which are the actual point I’m currently illustrating by using the Nero Wolfe T.V. series).

Deep, ain’t it?

So. The Nero Wolfe T.V. show. For the purposes of this blog post, let the record show that I’m referencing the Maury Chaykin/Timothy Hutton series: I believe there are other movies and maybe another series, but since I can’t possibly see them being anywhere near as good as the Chaykin/Hutton effort, I’m ignoring them as if they don’t exist.

archie-and-nero1

The whole show is well done: the casting is perfect (Chaykin and Hutton are Wolfe and Archie; mad and bad and dangerous to know–ie, flippant, selfish, and frequently crazy), the dialogue as sparkling and hilarious as in the books, the directing some of the best I’ve seen, and the costumes both bright and entirely accurate. And like all the best shows, the Nero Wolfe series has a peculiarity that will either endear it to you, or annoy you intensely. You can possibly guess which it is in my case.

This peculiarity, in the case of the Nero Wolfe series, is the fact that the show, instead of introducing the actors, introduces “the Players”.

Maybe you can see where this is going.

If not, allow me to explain. By introducing “the Players”, the show is letting you in on the secret that you may otherwise not notice until two or three episodes later– which is the fact that each of the actors is present in nearly every episode.

That’s right. Each of the actors is almost always present, and they each play a different part in each different episode. In the case of one particular episode, one actress even plays two parts– her recurring part as Lily Rowan, and that of another lady in the story. Only Archie Goodwin, Nero Wolfe, Fritz, and Lily Rowan are always the same. Even Saul changes face once before he remains Saul, and Orrie gets the same treatment. And when Saul and Orrie aren’t in the storyline, those actors play different parts, too.

It’s something that makes you really appreciate the skills of the actors, since with their different parts, they quite often have different accents as well as completely different personalities, and none of them fall short in any of those things. After a while it becomes a game to pick which ones are the same as last episode, because it’s not always easy to tell at first.

I was reminded of this lately as I watched a couple of Taiwanese dramas.

So far I’ve seen two. They’re hilarious and weird, and really very sweet– and insanely long (oh my goodness, 35 episodes?!?!)

Why am I bringing up Taiwanese drama after Nero Wolfe? Ah, now for the second illustration of my point (which, btw, I haven’t yet brought up. Wait for it).

I originally started watching the second drama because I really liked the main male lead in the first (Office Girls) and found out he was in Miss Rose is Getting Married, which sounded as hilarious as Office Girls.

Smiling eyes, hilariously hammy acting on occasion, perfect comedic timing, and then a sucker-punch kind of sweetness that catches you by surprise, Roy Chiu has quickly become one of my favourite actors.

Smiling eyes, hilariously hammy acting on occasion, perfect comedic timing, and then a sucker-punch kind of sweetness that catches you by surprise, Roy Chiu has quickly become one of my favourite actors.

So I began watching the second drama along with the first (really livin’ it up, yeah?)

My first surprise was that my (again, favourite) 2nd male lead was also in this one, in a bigger role (hooray!) Then the mean girl from Office Girls turned up as the cute, peppy best friend (also hooray, b/c she’s just adorable). It didn’t occur to me until about three or four episodes in that the main female lead was also 2nd female lead in Office Girls.

From this discovery I went on to find that nearly every single actor in Miss Rose is Getting Married was also in Office Girls. I’m not even exaggerating. Every main lead and most of the secondaries are in both dramas, simply playing different parts. They’ve even included some of the actors in fake video clips that you see in the background, causing me to choke on my tea and nearly die of death by drowning in my hitherto safe armchair. I’m now having a great old time trying to catch ’em all–er, I mean spot them all.

Which (finally) brings me to my point. Hooray?

As a writer, there is one thing that I’m constantly worried about. If you’ve been paying attention up until this point, you’ve probably guessed what that is.

It’s this: after you’ve written about four or five books, you start to worry about your characters. Specifically, you begin to worry that your characters are all the same. You worry that you’ve simply regurgitated the same old characters into a new setting and a new plot. You wonder if their reactions, dialogue, and essential character are just too similar to each other.

In short, you begin to see them as the same old actors, painted to look superficially different. I remember the first time that I realised Ellis Peters’ characters were essentially the same characters for each book, simply put into a different setting, plot, and murder mystery.

To some extent, you can’t get away from it. There are only so many types of characters out there, and each writer is generally geared to a certain type/s of character that they enjoy/are good at writing. It’s not even necessarily a bad thing: your fans and readers like a certain kind of character, and they won’t always appreciate you growing your craft at their expense.

So, if I can’t fully escape it, why am I stressing over it?

Because sometimes, just having the problem in mind is enough to ameliorate it, even if that’s only by a small amount. If you’ve got that nagging doubt at the back of your mind, you’ll be more careful about your character drawing. You’ll tweak this or that to add small shades of other colours. You’ll consider different circumstances that might lead to different character development. In short, by thinking about your craft as you work, it’s likely that your craft will improve.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing to have similar characters. Our core values don’t change too much, and as writers, that will always be disseminated in our writing– and especially in our characterisation. But as a writer, I don’t want to have the same old character in every book because I wasn’t good enough or disciplined enough to write different ones. If I have similar characters, I want it to be because I intended it that way, not because I don’t know any better.

Isabella Farrah (and other parts of me)

There is a question every author will be asked–oh so many times!–during their career.

That question is: “How do you come up with your characters?”

Its cousin is: “Are you going to put me in one of your books?”

The answer to the second question is: “That depends. Are you an awful person/have you been unspeakably nasty to me/the people I love? Then yes. And the character that is you will probably die alone and miserable, or at once and ‘orribly. Are you a nice/ordinary/pleasant person? Then maybe, but only the parts of you that interest me. Maybe your hair. Perhaps that habit of yours where you silently flick your index and fore fingers when you feel nervous. You will be dismembered in the most painless way, and your foibles and character traits dissected with great interest.”

“Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia”

-E.L. Doctorow

The answer to the first is slightly more complicated. I don’t really draw characters from real life, wholesale. I take bits and pieces. Sometimes those bits and pieces come from the people around me, but mostly they come from myself.

What is it that E.L. Doctorow says? “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia”. It’s true. I honestly don’t know how many authors work this way, but for me, there is some sense in which every character I write is me. Well, a part of me. Remember what I said about dismemberment earlier? Well, that applies to myself as well. I’m a great proponent of the practise of self-dismemberment. My characters are a kind of Igor: this piece patched onto that piece, a bit of embellishment here, and a bit of fancy stitching there. I don’t just keep the pieces as they are–I idealise them and alter them–but they remain essentially what they are: pieces of me.

My characters are a kind of Igor: this piece patched onto that piece, a bit of embellishment here, and a bit of fancy stitching there.

To put it in practical terms, we’ll take Isabella Farrah, the MC from my Beauty & the Beast rewrite, MASQUE. Lady Isabella Farrah is intelligent, driven, stubborn, resourceful, and incredibly confident. She has a great love for tea, adores her meals, and has a genius for making clothes. She pulls strings, lays plans, and makes the people around her dance to her tune–all for their own good, of course! She is quite certain that she knows best, and–fortunately for her–she is almost always right. (See Jane Austen’s EMMA for what can happen when such a character is not almost always right!)

Now this isn’t a true representation of my own character traits, but it does have its genesis there. I gave Isabella all of my stubbornness (and then some, since in her paradigm she is almost always right, whereas I, alas, am not), my love for tea and good food, and a heightened sense of my own love for making clothes. I also gave her what my mother calls my Pied Piper attribute. For some reason, kids over the age of three seem to love me. They follow me around, grin at me, tell me their made up jokes, and do what I tell them to (and sometimes what I do, which brings its own problems). With very few exceptions, I find it easy to manage a crowd of kids. So I made this attribute bigger and better and less inclined to small failures, and gave it to Isabella, who makes everyone dance to her tune.

She was such a fun and easy character to write because I took of my most confident and comfortable things to make her. Now, when I write characters with less pleasant parts of me–my fear of people yelling at me, for example, or my anxiety with what people think of me–it makes writing that character much harder. I don’t love the parts of me that are afraid of everything. I’d much rather write confident, self-reliant people. But the fact is that there are parts of me that are always afraid, always sick, or always not particularly nice. And if I don’t write character with those traits as well–MCs as well as side characters–let’s face it, I’m not a very good author. I don’t want to write the same character all the time.

So when you see a character of mine that you don’t like as much, whether that’s because s/he’s always afraid, or too anxious to please, or actually quite nasty, just remember–it’s all a part of me. In a way, everything you see in one of my books tells you something about me. You’ll see the nasty pieces of me as well as the pretty pieces.

Confessions: I’m A Hoarder

I’m a hoarder.

But before you go thinking Hoarders and Hoarders: Buried Alive (or even chocolates and other sweet things–okay, okay, maybe I do hoard those) I’m not talking the type of hoarding that piles magazines, newspapers, dvds and other miscellany on any hoarders2surface available. I mean, it is possible that I could be said to hoard books. And probably DVDs, too. And I’m starting to lose where I was going with this ‘cos it looks like I am that kind of hoarder after all.

That’s normal, right?

Right.

No, I’m the kind of hoarder who clutches delightful feels and gorgeous imaginary friends to myself with a compulsion bordering upon obsession. This means that when I get toward the end of a favourite tv show or book series, I slow waaaaaaay down. I take my time reading/watching them, savouring each episode or book. And quite often I tend to stop reading/watching altogether.

There are still five or six episodes of one of my favourite tv shows, Leverage, that I haven’t yet seen. This, despite the fact that the final season aired a year or two ago. I’ve just gotten to that stage with The A-Team too (it’s all Murdock’s fault, he’s just so wonderfully, hilariously, delightfully mad) and I’ve had the second book in the Hitch-hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy series for about three weeks now before reading it. It’s taken me this long to start reading it, not because I didn’t like the first, but because I really enjoyed it.

I’m also hoarding about six of Steven Brust’s books that I’ve owned for a couple years but haven’t read; and there are about four Terry Pratchett books that I still haven’t read. I love these guys. I haven’t been able to bring myself to read these books yet because I can only read them once. It helps immensely that all of these shows and books that I’ve just mentioned can be read/watched again and again without diminishing enjoyment. It’s just that the first read-through/watch is different, yanno?

I’m a hopeless case. I know it. But when that perfect rainy day comes ’round, when I’ve got the perfect meal and the perfect drink set up, I’ll be ready to go. I’ve got saved up episodes of Leverage, The A-Team, and Psych; and I’ve got hoarded books by my favourite authors to read. The only problem will be knowing which one to pick first.

What do you guys hoard? Anything cool? (And if anyone hoards lizards, can you send me a moniter lizard? I’ve always wanted one of those).