Hazel McHaffie

Winston Churchill

Inhabiting characters

Fragile: approach with care!

I remember going to an event years ago, where the audience walked past several actors in various poses. We were advised not to speak to them as they were already ‘in character’. And we were subsequently treated to a masterclass in how they achieved this level of identification and immersion in order to project the final images which had us mesmerised. Fascinating insights.

And I’m sure we can all appreciate how thoroughly good actors can inhabit their characters when we see the same person in completely different roles. Just think Meryl Streep – literally Oscar winning!: Mrs Thatcher in The Iron Lady,  Emmeline Pankhurst in Suffragette, Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada. She is these women for us! How does she do it? ‘Acting is not about being someone different. It’s finding the similarity in what is apparently different, then finding myself in there,’ she says. But the end result is utterly convincing on our end of the process.

Even in films where a well-known person of our time is being represented – King George VI, the Queen, Winston Churchill, Ghandi – a good actor can make us suspend disbelief by somehow capturing the essence of the character; a style of speech or dress, a gait, a look, an idiosyncratic habit. And to do that, they delve into archives, study mannerisms, learn speech patterns and dialects, anything that will increase empathy and understanding of who exactly such persons were/are. Just watch something like The Crown, The King’s Speech, The Queen, and you can see the little foibles and eccentricities that help the identification process in a huge cast of well known faces.

To an extent an author too, needs to get inside the skin of their characters, in order to make them believable and relatable. Unless we care, we don’t want to read on. In my case, I want to make them real enough for the reader also to feel their pain, empathise with their situation, identify with their challenges and choices. To ask themselves: What would I have done? With my current book, this has meant immersing myself in the psychological depths of a new mother struggling to cope; an ambitious businessman torn by divided loyalties; health care professionals grapplling with the threat of making a wrong call; a clever manipulative mind … no wonder it’s exhausting and depressing and stressful at times! Even now, when I’m reading and re-reading and reading again to make sure every dot and nuance is as good as I can make it before Killing me Gently is published. Perhaps authors too should have mentors and support networks built in to their job descriptions. And a label: Fragile: approach with care.

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A mystery inside an enigma

We’re all rather preoccupied with Russia and Syria and the UK’s responses to their activities at the moment, aren’t we? What a burden for our politicians to carry. Poisonings on the streets of the UK, chemical weapons used in Syria, volatile tweets, warning missiles, brutal leaders, conspiracy theories … sobering and scary stuff. Complicated still further by the fact that some at least of the detail is unknown, distorted, speculative, suspected, misguided. Reminds me of Winston Churchill‘s famous quote way back when: Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.

Once you start seriously thinking about these troubling scenarios, an uneasy kind of sense of foreboding can hang around, colouring your day.

And that’s exactly how I’m feeling at the moment most of the time. Because, on top of real and major global conflict that could affect us all, I’m personally living with doubt, fear, secrecy, suspicion, in my fictional world, and it’s seriously affecting my mood and my stress levels. It wakes me up at night. It’s hanging over me while I peel vegetables. It plays in my mind while I tramp trough the spring countryside. It haunts my waking thoughts and my troubled dreams.

My main character is in the frame for a series of very perplexing happenings. Her husband, sister, sister-in-law, friend, an as yet unknown protagonist, could all possibly be implicated in some way or another. Who exactly can be trusted? Fact and fantasy are getting confused. The threat is building. The options are reducing. The risk is mounting. Fear is taking over. The professionals are getting more and more on edge. And even I am not entirely sure who to believe! It’s shiver-up-the-spine exciting but also distinctly mood lowering.

So advice is, stay well clear of me if you can, till this situation has resolved itself.

(Acknowledgement: Image courtesy of Iqoncept Dreamstime.com)

 

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