Friday, May 20, 2011

When Characters Come Alive

Katniss brought to you by Entertainment Weekly

For obvious reasons (see above), I've been thinking about the relationship between characters and readers. We hear all the time in this business about that relationship, whether it's, "I just didn't connect with your main character," or, "I can't wait to find out what happens to [insert character name here]." 

But it's even more clear how personal that relationship is when the big screen reenacts a beloved book. From Pride and Prejudice (all twelve versions) to Twilight to Eragon to The Hunger Games, literary fans become hyper critical movie fans. Why? Because nobody can reach into your imagination and pull out the character you envisioned. Nobody. And to expect that, we know, is folly. 

And yet, when I saw these stills of Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss, a little happy butterfly leaped and fluttered in my tummy. I can't say it's exactly how I saw her, but it's SO close. Even better is the exclusive interview with Entertainment Weekly that goes with this mag shots wherein Katniss--I mean Jennifer--talks about how hard Oscar season was for her with people putting dresses on her and doing her makeup, how she'd just raise her hands over her head when they wanted to try another dress, and then pout her lips when someone wanted to apply lipstick. It was soooo Katniss. 

It's really fun to see this series come alive in the film medium. So what is it that makes a connect-able character like Bella or Katniss? (And please don't say Bella is a blank slate because I totally disagree.) Dig deeper. I want to know what it is you loved about these two heroines who are so vastly different from one another and yet have garnered a similar level of fan-doration. 

The floor is yours, ladies and gentlemen. 

What makes a beloved character beloved?


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  2. I really think it's the plot/story that makes them beloved. Katniss bordered on being unlikable for me at several parts in the series (like when she said she thought about drowning kitten Buttercup because it was another mouth to feed in the beginning of HG) but I was too interested in the rest of the larger story arc and the love interests and characters. Katniss showed heroic moments, so that ended up making her a flawed character, but that's the same reason why I loved the TV show Firefly- they were all flawed, but redeemable. I could say it was a little more plot driven in HG.

    I think people loved Bella Swan for a different slightly reason; because of how wrapped up they got in her emotions and feelings for Edward. It was reminiscent of first love and first boyfriend/infatuation that most people have as teenagers. I wasn't so interested in her because I didn't quite like her as a character, but I was interested in the story. I think Twilight was a little more character-driven than plot driven in the end. I was more concerned about seeing the movie stay true to the story than seeing Bella played by the right actress. They gave her a little more backbone in the movie than she seemed to have in the book (punching Sam, goading James to go ahead and kill her so he wouldn't get to Edward, etc).

    I think overall, what makes a character comes alive is when the rest of the elements of theatre that Aristotle came up with (if it ain't broke, don't fix it, right?:) come together beautifully:

    1. Thought/Theme/Ideas
    2. Action/Plot
    3. Characters
    4. Language
    5. Music
    6. Spectacle

    I think it's funny that Characters come 3rd, but if you have a strong enough concept and plot, they'll come naturally-- at least it's this way for me when I write!

    By the way, great blog Katrina!

  3. Thank you, Eleni! Very good points about likability versus overall story arc in compelling a reader to continue.

    I loved Bella because of her loyalty and quiet stubbornness, and also because of her voracious reading. Who doesn't love a reader?

    I liked Katniss because of her loyalty, too, but hers was a much more practical, survival-type loyalty. All she really cared about in the beginning was her own family and friends. I liked seeing that tiny circle grow until she wants to save everybody. She grew in compassion from trying to drown a cat to walking through a hospital full of dying people and trying to give them hope.

  4. Yeah, Katniss was definitely NOT a static character. I felt like Bella Swan was in the end of Breaking Dawn, and that was my disappointment with the Twilight Series.

  5. I actually envisioned Katniss as a redhead, so when I saw that Lawrence's hair looked a little reddish in the pictures I squealed.

    I loved Katniss in the first two books and the middle of the third book because she was such a strong heroine, someone I wouldn't mind my daughter looking up to. I also love how much Lawrence can relate to Katniss with dressing up for Oscar season when she really wants to just be a down home girl in jeans and flip flops.

    I don't relate to Katniss, but I can relate to Bella in the fact that she went from being unnoticed in Arizona and then the shiny new toy when she went to Forks. Okay, so I can't relate EXACTLLY to that, but I know how she feels to feel invisble one place and then really get noticed in a new one.

  6. Cool, Magan! I didn't even notice the red twinge in her hair, but it's fitting considering how much fire she has in her blood.

    And I know what you mean about going from a nobody to a somebody. I think a lot of us have had that experience in one form or another, like going from high school to college, or just any time we make a big move and suddenly we're the new girl.

    I'm not like Bella or Katniss in their hatred of attention. Not that I crave attention, but I'm not allergic to it like they seem to be. All the same, the writing in these stories brought their anxiety about it to life for me and I could sympathize.

  7. I haven't finished the first book yet, so I don't know much about the series at the moment. I thought Katniss was lovable at the beginning, but as soon as she was brought to the Capitol she started getting a little annoying, and it only escalated when the games began. She's likable enough that I can live in her head while I'm reading the book, but so far it's not enough to call her "beloved."

    On the other hand, I love that she cares about people and will do whatever she has to to protect the people she loves. And let's face it, I'd be the first one dead in those games, so that fact that she's surviving is admirable enough. I am still waiting for her to do something cool, though. All she does so far is sleep and eat and hate on Peeta for no good reason.

  8. Well, for Bella...I think people connect with her because in a way, they want to be her. Having two guys fighting for you, being able to become a vampire and get cool powers. Ask any Twilight fan out there, and I'd guess very few would say Bella is their favorite character.

    However, Katniss gets you because she's strong, and your heart breaks for her when she's as strong as she can be, but somehow it's not enough. She's kind at heart but cold on the exterior. The complexities of her and what she struggles with is what gets people to love her. Opposed to Bella, I'd say a good majority of Hunger Games fans would say Katniss is their favorite character of the series, because SHE makes the story, not just what circumstances she is thrown into.

    I fangirled out when I saw Jen as Katniss. :) She's not the image exactly I had in my head as far as her looks, but her SPIRIT, oh my gosh, that is so Katniss.

  9. Holy smokes, Jenna. You totally just read my mind. :)

    I think it's hard to connect 100% with both characters, but I certainly click more with Katniss than with Bella. I can see Bella's appeal for some people, though. Think of it this way: if you switched the female protags, the novels would be over in ten pages.

    Katniss would kill Edward

    Bella would get killed

    And WHO wants to read a 10-page novel???

  10. Even if people don't like her as a character, I think what makes Bella relatable is that she doesn't have it all together. She's unsure of herself much of the time. Who hasn't felt that quality from time to time?

    Katniss isn't always sure of herself either. But her willingness to take her sister's place endeared her to me from the start. She also has that "I'm a survivor" quality that Jennifer Lawrence seems to have. As others have posted, Katniss does what she has to do to ensure the safety of herself and others.

  11. Good talk, guys. Thanks for making this interesting!


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