“Who Am I?”
Such a question is ever on the aching heart of Virginia and her teen-aged counterparts in Mother of Us All – striving to determine where her identity comes from – the values upheld by her parents, the radical ideals of her teen-aged friends, her presumed status as a housewife, or her inability to have children?
Virginia has taken more time to ponder such things than I have as a screenwriter. The first Act of my film flows marvelously because I understand that Virginia, that Leo, and that Marina. But the remainder of the script seems to focus more on the feminist cause than Virginia herself, which is why it is no longer interesting to the reader. Virginia literally gets lost in a crowd of teenagers.
I have always been praised for my ability to create and understand every tiny detail and aspect of very interesting and dynamic characters. Structure is usually the area in which I lack skill. But in this case, I haven’t been able to allow myself time to become fully acquainted with my characters. It’s not because I wanted to rush the screenwriting process or out of a feeling of lack of time – as has been a common theme with this project, I was merely afraid of getting to know Virginia and those dear to her. As utterly strange as it may sound, when I first “give birth” to a character of my own design, they become quite real in my mind. Not that I see ramifications of them in the physical realm, but emotionally I feel a strong personal connection to them. The more I get to know my character and develop the intricacies of their life story, the more I feel as though I owe them something – I owe it to them to tell the best and worst elements of their grand life story with perfect excellence. In this particular instance, I feel inadequate to fulfill that debt.
This. however, does not mean that I merely give up on my screenplay, or have someone else develop that character work for me; it means that I work to overcome those feelings of inadequacy and push through every detail of the lives of my characters. My screenwriting consultant and friend gave me some good direction on how to go about this. Instead of asking mere questions about their history (while that should be developed), the screenwriter should ask about their spirituality, their relationships, their involvement in politics, culture, the economy, and society in general, their dreams/plans for the future, their sexuality, their personal preferences, their view of their own self, their health, and the most significant points in their life. Some questions about Virginia specifically stuck out to me:
What is she afraid of?
How does she see herself?
What is the one secret she will never tell anyone?
What are the lines she is absolutely unwilling to cross? Why?
As if that weren’t enough to contemplate, other exercises were suggested to me, such as the selection of items that are symbolic to each principle character: a song, animal, inanimate object, painting, literary figure, scene from a theater production or film, and a defining line of poetry,to name a few. And finally alternate scenes should be written to portray moments not seen on camera but that are significant to the character’s life such as: a dream sequence, an inner monologue, a death scene for the character at their present age, a scene between each character and their parents, and a scene where bliss is experienced.
The amount of work seems overwhelming, but the payoff will certainly be high in value. I won’t be revealing the answers to these questions or these exercises in this blog, so don’t get your hopes up, but I will continue to track the progress of my character work for you. The true sign of success will be seen in the improvement in my second and third acts.