Sometimes finding inspiration to write yet another future world is difficult. Science fiction gives you creative freedom but the readers expect certain tropes. So many movies and books have enticed audiences, many of them with breathtaking views of famous cities which lie in ruin. Some writers trust what’s been written before. Why invent the wheel again? In addition to the setting, a writer must invent fashion, food, customs and decide how women and androids are treated in front of the law (among a thousand other details which make the world in question believable and rich).
Dystopia in popular culture
Some common visions rule our imagination about the not-so-distant future: the dusty wastelands of Mad Max and the uni-clothed people walking along the clean streets of cities (The Giver, 2014 and Equals, 2015). Popular culture might seem pulp, but sometimes a book or motion picture makes a lasting impression on our joint subconsciousness. Blade Runner’s (1982) dark & wet Asian metropolis is iconic. No one can dispute a setting like that. Ghost in the Shell (original 1995, and a beautiful remake with Scarlett Johansen playing the main role, 2017) recycled the technocratic nightmare city with heavenly imagery. The Matrix movies have warped our perception of reality since 1999 and inspired countless directors and writers.
Many creators believe that the future is a scrappy version of today’s world: take George Orwell’s 1984, or Snowpiercer (movie, 2014). There’s nothing wrong with that. On the contrary, reusing familiar items offers an author countless ways for novelty. What is precious in the future? Something the people of today discarded as worthless? Which vehicles create future mechanics because they are super easy to maintain?
How to dress for dystopia
If you write post-apocalyptic books like me, you’d empty the last hairspray bottle in the world to mold a gravity-defying punk hair-do and wrap your body into the leather (with plenty of spiked accessories). Every sensible nomadic scavenger wears sturdy boots and carries guns. On the other hand, every one of us recognizes the red hood from The Handmaid’s Tale. Wearing that is a feminist statement. Some future people value clean lines. Moviemakers love to dress evil into designer power suits.
Need more? Check Pinterest for character inspiration. Making mood boards there is beyond easy. Or watch what artists create on Deviant Art but mind copyright.
Do you struggle with creating characters that feel like real people? You’re not alone. The job becomes harder when you have multiple books up your sleeve. Variation is tough work, and as humans, we are tempted to repeat models which worked in the past. Beware of the cookie-cutter character!
Character or Plot-driven?
If your writing style is plot-driven, you develop the three acts and the key scenes first, and characters develop after that. Maybe the first thing you envision is the historical era or the fantasy setting with intricate maps and systems of magic?
If you’re character-driven like me, you see the characters in your dreams. You hear them talk and envision them in different scenarios. I speak the dialogue out loud and practice the expressions of my heroine in front of a mirror. I form the MC and the villain first. The conflict brewing between them becomes my main idea, and their backstories take form later on. But a character with little to do is… yawn. Many writers elevate the characterization over the plot, but if you don’t get on with the story… wham! That’s the sound your book makes when the reader tosses it to the corner and shall never pick it up.
Which type of writer are you? Examine your preferences.
“It doesn’t matter how “interesting” the character is if you cannot create an antagonistic environment that chisels and defines that character. Even an awesome plot that takes the reader on the most mind-bending twists and turns will fall flat when depending on the strength of one-dimensional character. No matter how you approach storytelling, remember this: your story needs both character and plot.”
Let us return to the process which actors and actresses go through as they layer their next Oscar- nominating role. Yes, they have their work cut out for them, like the screenwriters who wrote the part which snatches the attention of Anthony Hopkinsor Angelina Jolie.
Method acting means a technique in which an actor aspires to complete emotional identification with a role. Method acting was developed by Elia Kazan and Lee Strasberg in particular and is associated with star actors such as Marlon Brando and Dustin Hoffman.
“Method actors have this amazing ability to not only get into character but live through the character and bring an unsurpassable depth. What I love about Method Actors is that they don’t appear to be acting, they appear to be living; they know how to get into character so well that you believe they ARE the character. Lots of method actors are very humble about their work, but when you see them on stage or screen, it is electrifying, to say the least.”
As a practice, compile a Pinterestmoodboard of your favorite movie actors in their most bedazzling roles and compare them to their photos taken on the red carpet. The difference between the person and the character is striking! Great actors and actresses take their roles seriously. Whatever they do, whether on stage or screen, will be forever etched either onto film or in the minds of their audience. They move hearts and will live on in the souls of their fans. The mechanism of transferring emotional identification is your aim as a writer.
Watch a clip of Meryl Streep On Accessing The Characters Within:
If you write from personal experience, you have an array of intimate emotions at your disposal, but you might struggle with transferring that emotion to the inexperienced reader. The actress uses her director as a mirror. Who do you use? Duh! Beta readers, of course. Remember to ask if they felt the emotional fireworks. This is important because the book lives or dies viaShowing, Not Telling. The audience experiences what your Point-of-View character senses with his eyes, nose, ears, skin, and so forth.
Remember that the reader must also understand the villain on some human level, and you are responsible for making that happen. A character actor villain has what’s called a presence. When he steps on the stage, he rules the scene. How does that happen? You’ll feel the tingling on your skin and the chills down your spine.
Ruining Your Favorite Movie
Warning: using my method might ruin watching movies for you. Like when you started learning the craft of authorship, which spoiled the enjoyment of a great book. That’s because you know how the chassis works and cannot see the beauty of the Ferrari sportscar anymore.
Watch clips of great method actors in their star roles. Choose characters that resemble your own. The clips help you construct body-language and subtle expressions because method actors are rarely flamboyant—unless the role demands precisely that. Think of Joker in Batman: he’s a showman, which means he knows how to get the audience’s attention big time. Admire how Heath Ledgerbreathes life into the iconic villain.
The age of the internet has made extensive research more accessible than ever before. You have libraries of movie clips to watch. See how Anthony Hopkins or J. T. Walshanimates a bad guy. Who is your favorite hero? How has he aged and changed? Remember that the nature of characters is perpetual motion. Does blind idealism fill your favorite heroine, or does she come from between the-rock-and-a-hard place?
However, this method doesn’t allow copycatting. You shouldn’t copy a movie on paper; its a copyright infringement and punishable by law. Watching great actors at work can be compared to moodboarding: seeking material for inspiration.
Two Sides of The Same Coin
“The best and worst specimens of humanity are two sides of the same coin. Heroes and villains are not categories that are divided by the expansive sea of morality never to have their shores meet. On the contrary, both the most exalted heroism and diabolical villainy are manifestations of a human spirit that has become capable of great things. And great things need not be good things.”
What differentiates good from evil? Point-of-view. Yes, sin is relative, and you can use this in your writing because humans are a social species. Skillful actors mud their characters layer by layer, and they mirror themselves on other people. One of the best tricks you can throw at your readers is to let someone else reflect the bad guy. Describe how the military villain’s subordinates act when he enters the room. Show a conversation between the hero and his sidekick about the dark one.
If you want to dig deeper into the depths which a character actor would use, show the villain’s first crime: when he wasn’t yet a developed killer.
The sides of the coin are the reason why the same brilliant actor portrays heroes and villains with incredible authenticity.