My Scribbler's Sanctuary

My Scribbler's Sanctuary
My Other World

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Creative Writing and the Psychology of Characters

It's about the writing. It's just THAT simple! Whether it's a movie, t.v. show or novel, if the story gets you so involved in the lives of the characters that you react to the good or bad things that are happening to those people, then the writer(s) of that story were invested in the tale they were telling (real or fictional).
A good case-in-point is a sequel story by Francine Rivers. (Her Mother's Hope/  Her Daughter's Dream) .  The first of the two books tells the story of young Marta Schneider, whose father is a cold, abusive man. Her mother is a kind woman who does her best to show Marta love, to counter-act her father's abuses, but tells the girl to 'fly' out of the nest. Because if she doesn't, she will be a slave to the tailor's shop. And worse, to her father.
Marta does just that. Working wherever she could find a job, the plucky teenager slaves and squirrels her money away for something she wants. A place of her own! A boarding house where she can be her own boss. 
At this point in the story, you can't help but admire the girl. Even root for her. Marta Schneider is  tenacious and she will do what she needs to do, in order to get what she wants. That sounds good...for her. However, when her firstborn daughter does not share Marta's 'look out for number 1' credo, Marta shames the girl, even as she, paradoxically, tells a friend, in letters, how proud she is, of Hildemara Rose. 
   Even as a young child, Hildemara is treated, by her mother, like a dead weight. Something she is forced to drag around, but who doesn't matter. When the kids are given new  Christmas toys by a women's church group, after the family first moves to America, (from Switzerland) Hildemara rose is given nothing more than a rag doll from the church rummage box. Marta's view was that, since the child didn't push or shout to be heard, for what she wanted,  "...she gets what she gets." 
   As she gets older, this doesn't change. As the kids grow up and plan to go off to college,  her mother tells Marta tells her eldest daughter, point blank, that she will have to work her own way through nursing school. This, in spite of the fact that the other kids'  educations are being financed.  Her only brother is being helped by her father, who does want to help his daughter, as well, but finances are limited. And Marta puts her foot down; insisting that if Hildemara wants to clean bed pans and be nothing more than a a servant, then she wasn't about to finance the girl's desire to become a slalve.
  Somehow, Hildemara gets through nursing school, without a dime of her mother's money. But her daughter's determination does not melt her mother's iron spine or cold heart. On her first trip home from college,  Hildemara is treated like an unwelcomed guest. "Life doesn't stand still for you, Hildemara Rose."  (approx quote) .  
   What would have been THE last straw for me, is being the scene when Hildemara is kicked out of the house after the death of her father. She took time off from school to help when it's learned that her father has pancreatic cancer. She does everything she can, for him, and is given meds by the family doctor.  But after he dies, and the rest of the kids go back to their own homes and jobs, Hildemara stays back to help around the house and keep her mother company.  For those efforts, she is called a Martyr and told to get out and go back to school. That she isn't needed.
For me, that would have been it! I would have walked out, bag and baggage, gone back to my nursing school, found a way to scrimp the money together to have my name changed, and given Marta Waltert what she wanted; a life without the girl Marta Schneider-Waltert saw as nothing but a door mat.
More than characters in a book, Francine Rivers bases these fictional women on the real life women of her own family; her mother, grandmother and great grandmother. And while I've had my own issues with my mother, if she was anything like Marta Waltert, I would have walked away and my other siblings could have taken care of her. 
In the future, I hope to re-read the first book, just as a reminder, and then write what I would have done, in Hildemara's place. Literally , she is the sympathetic character her mother once was. It's interesting that, while Marta loved the mother who provided her daughter  gentle guidance and love, it's her ruthless father Marta becomes, to her own daughter.
  Another sympathetic character I'd like to explore became my first mentor and hero. He was a songwriter, unintended artist's activist and butt-kicker extraordinaire, though, except for the first, he didn't have the other two in mind at all.
I was ten when I met Winslow Leach. One dully, grey Sunday afternoon in January of 1975, my mom took my brother, sister and me to see a movie that all the kids at school had been talking about... Phantom of the Paradise. For this (then) ten year old mind, it was a wild flick, The end was a stomach-turner! Still, something sunk in. It took a while, and I ended up having a crush on ….WhatWASIthinking
  Sweet Scorsesee! What was I thinking!?
Even in the middle of that foolish infatuation, though, I found myself ....gravitating closer to the movie's hero; the hopeful young songwriter, who is pushed to drastic and murderous measures by the thieving record producer Winslow had once trusted his life's work to.
In writer's parlance, Winslow is what you would call a sympathetic character. You might think he was naive in what he did (giving his life's work away, on a promise that his work would be produced), but you might also find yourself thinking that you MIGHT be lured into the same trap, if you were in his case.
Writer/director Brain DePalma had a special empathy for Winslow, as he found himself in Winslow's shoes, early in his career. And between being shown the door by big names in high places, and hearing a beloved song being trashed by canned music, Brian fought back through Winslow (William Finley). And 40 years later, character, actor and movie are remembered by phans who appreciated what the character endured, to even the score for himself, and all nameless hopefuls.  Because of Winslow mistakes,  we're careful to cover our own creative  tracks, before the fact. "Ounce of prevention..."  and all that. Also, though, because he was willing to try and get back what was his, we also rooted for him!  He wasn't just a sympathetic character, he was a hero. Like Roy Schieder in Jaws. Only, instead of killing a shark, Winslow was hunting great white Swan.   We might not have agreed with everything he did, en route to his prey. Then again, when you're at war, rules tend to go out the window. Today, Winslow remains a focal point. I think of his mistakes when I'm working on a project, which reminds me to back up what I'm working on. His gumption and fiery determination give me courage to do things that I want and need to do, but I'm not sure that I can do...
If you're a wrestling fan, from the glory days of the late 80's into the 90's, then you know who Randy (Macho Man) Savage was. There was another guy you didn't mess with. Unfortunately, I didn't have the opportunity to meet him, but if I had,  I might have asked if he ever heard of Phantom of the Paradise. If he had, I would have told him that he reminded me of Winslow. They both knew how to dress when the situation called for it. Both men had a poetic bent, especially when they were angry or passionate about something. And baby, when those boys took to the air, EAGLES got nervous!
      As I may have already mentioned,Winslow Leach was a 'sympathetic' character but he was also an active protagonist who embodied the trooper song, "Raise a Little Hell" and  was the inspiration for a slogan that I THINK I made up; NEVER push a Nice Guy too far. They're the ones who push back the hardest.
   Wild, the way these things work out. I've heard it said, by fans of the movie, that Phantom of the Paradise is a live-action version of a Warner Bros. cartoon. Get THAT past the Fox censors! 
But seriously folks, it may be one fan's humble opinion, but the characters that make up the new generation of Warner Bros. cartoons are every bit as enduring as those wacky characters who set the standard,back when.  Of all the indelible characters, this author's personal favorites are those two mice who were created, NOT JUST by a whim of science but by the most blessed of phrases, "WHAT IF....."    To paraphrase Max Bialystock, "Worlds are CONQUERED on such thoughts!"
Inspired by Animaniacs writer Tom Minton and story board artist Eddie Fitzgerald, Senior Producer Tom Ruegger pondered, aloud, "WHAT IF Tom Minton and Eddie Fitzgerald took over the world?"  This random ...pondering became the genesis for Pinky and the Brain, and while the pairing was mainly intended to be comedic, many fans, (this author included)  have come to sympathize with Pinky and his having to room with a mean,humorless egomaniac like Brain, whose single-minded obsession so often gets in the way of his being able to just enjoy life. I mean, the guy rarely smiles, unless he comes across a plan for world domination, which he is sooo sure will work.
That intellect, mingled with all the patience of a boiling tea kettle, make Brain either unwilling or incapable of enjoying his cage-mate's off beat sense of humor, and, more often than not, Pinky is hit on the head with a pencil, or insulted, or both.  For whatever reason, however, he doesn't strike back in anger, as most of us would.

In the episode titled SNOWBALL, Brain's former friend puts the question to Pinky, "Do you like it when Brain insults you? Puts you down?"GettingbackatBrain

To which Pinky meekly replies, "No."  For some reason, lost on me, he doesn't mind being hit on the head. In Pinky's place, I would have grabbed one end of that pencil, held it aloft, (with Brain still holding on) and informed the slap-happy mouse, "Unless you want to know what a rubber ended rectal thermometer feels like, you won't try that again!"  Or, the less-suggestive but more gruesome, "Somewhere, Mr. Brain, there is a cat's stomach with your name on it. Hit me again and you'll make that dinner reservation. Do I make myself clear?" 
It's an interesting puzzler why Snowball thinks he needs to use Pinky to get back at Brain. Considering all the times Brain has shoots down poor Pinky, you'd think he would have welcomed the offer to be freed of his intellectual inferior. So, for the sake of discussion anway, the question begs to be asked, "Why didn't Brain just leave Pinky and go in search of a cage-mate, on closer par with his I.Q. ?  Is it that he didn't believe there was another mouse or rodent, in all of Acme Labs who even approached his intelligence? Or because he got some sort of morbid kick out of verbally and physically picking on someone, who, he knew, wouldn't fight back? Orrrrrr..... is it that Brain somehow knew, that, taking his attitude with anyone else, he would have long since been left as cat food?  
There is that core to the methodically-minded mouse, where he realizes that there is more to his intellectually stunted cage-mate than he lets himself believe.  In Pinky's Plan,  Brain finds Pinky's surprise birthday party plan which had all the world's leaders meeting at Chunky Cheeses (that's Chucky Cheese in real life) and, strangely enough came to the conclusion that Pinky was trying to usurp his (Brain's) plans and take over the world on his own. I say 'strange' on two grounds. First off, Brain often insisted that Pinky didn't have the intelligence of a burned out light bulb. (Loosely translated).  So how COULD he take over the world, on his own, even if he wanted to?  Second, when did Pinky ever go behind his back on anything? In both the literal and moral sense, Pinky wouldn't know what an ulterior motive was! 
Anyway, when Brain stalks into Pinky's surprise party (dressed as Richard Simmons) and insists that the leaders have all been taken for a scam,  they take back their keys to the world, which they had given to Pinky; believing what he said about how Brain was 'selfless' and would do the best for the world.  In fact, it's Pinky who's the SELFLESS one. Brain wouldn't have jumped to the wrong conclusion if he wasn't so self-absorbed.
"I don't deserve a friend like you."  Brain concedes in humiliation, realizing that he was the cause of the plan's undoing . Can't argue with that logic!
Another case-in-point is the Halloween episode. Now pretty much everyone who loves P.a.t.B will likely site the Christmas episode as being THE holiday episode; up there with Capra (It's a Wonderful Life) or A Christmas Carol (Scrooge~ Alistair Sim), and I love it, too. But I subject that that Halloween episode TIES with the Christmas episode, based on the fact that there is a similar message in both shows. This idea is relatively foreign to Halloween shows, which are largely big spooky fun. (a la The Simpson's).  PatB's Halloween episode, on the other hand, has at least the same depth as the Christmas episode. Maybe even more.  After all, how many of us would sell our souls on behalf of someone else? Especially if that someone was always insulting,  berating and physically doing us harm?  
With Brain's latest plan gone awry (Jack-a-lantronic transmitting system); partly because of Pinky's wanting to play games in the middle of Brain's broadcast, and also because Brain crammed the peanut butter cup into Pinky's mouth, causing Pinky to fall back onto the transmitter.  The chocolate gets into the dial; causing the transmitter to seize up, making the pumpkin radio transmitting devices explode. A furious Brain blames Pinky for all of it, insisting that he was 'Feckless' and 'completely nugatory'.   And while Pinky might not have understood the meaning of those insults,  the tone of Brain's voice made it clear that he wasn't singing his praises.

Feckless; according to the Oxford Dictionary of Current English... 3rd edition, means;  Lacking determination or purpose. Feeble. Irresponsible.
 Nugatory; Having no purpose or value
Would you be inclined to sell your soul for the sort of person who'd run you down as often as Brain berated Pinky, or would you be more likely to tell Brain to GO to HELL!? Put it to you this way, I wouldn't be volunteering to damn myself for someone who'd hardly care less where I ended up!
Eventually, however, Brain contradicts his words with actions, by going to hell (conveniently located under the directory map  for the Department of Motor Vehicles) to rescue Pinky. Sadly, however,  for all his efforts, he can't summon up the courage to tell his friend that he went to this effort because Pinky was his friend and that his cared for him and missed him. Rather, Brain insisted that he came to find out where Pinky put the food pellets. HUH????  Brain, you're KING OF THE WORLD.  You could have whatever you wanted. If you couldn't find those food pellets, you could get more!  Or something else! Sweet Scorsesee! Even Snowball, in all his heartlessness, knew that Brain did care. Though a person is hard pressed to tell, most of the time. Still, Pinky was delighted; sure that his friend did need him. Why else would he go through that hell (literally). So why couldn't Brain admit as much?!  It's here where I wouldn't mind taking a pencil to Brain's head. For all his book-smarts, he's not terribly bright sometimes. At best, Brain could be diagnosed, (by Dr. Scratchnsniff) as an emotionally crippled genius.
   Another occasion where Pinky turned out to be the better mouse was an episode called 'Welcome to the Jungle', there PatB  were literally dropped into the middle of nowhere by a group of well-meaning animal rights activists. To Brain's amazement Pinky is better equipped to survive in the hostile environment where Brain is completely out of his element, away from all the gizmoes and do-hickies he thought he'd need. It is only after Pinky shows him a few tricks, (the stick is our friend) and how to construct a hat from tree bark, (among other things) that Brain is able to figure out how to adapt; which helps him when he has to go head to head with Snowball, who the tourists call 'the Wise One'. 

When all is said and done, Brain continues to Befuddle me. He does have the capacity for compassion, which is a good thing. So, to be fair, I would have to say that I don't think he would betray Pinky, even if the prize was the world. The Halloween episode proved that. In a way.   On the other hand,  there are episodes like 'Cute Little Alienhead' (Pinky, Elmyra and the Brain)  where his verbal mistreatment and threats of doing physical harm make me wonder what Brain might be capable of, should his ambitions finally over-ride what conscience he has. It's a possibility I'll be experimenting with, on both sides of the issue. (Will he? Won't he?)
In this show, Brain makes contact with an alien who chides him ; calling him Dummy Boy.  Brain, of course, doesn't care for the insult, but has no problem slagging Pinky off, when he attempts to barter, for important scientific components, with a button that he believes to be a 'Bunny Tree' seed.  Brain told Elmyra this, in order to get a must-needed respite from being mauled by the over-playful pre-schooler, and yet, is nasty to Pinky for believing it; threatening serious physical harm.  Brain also lacks empathy, when the alien ends up on the receiving-end of Elmyra's aggressive playfulness.  
Pinky: The alien doesn't look very happy.
Brain: But I am.
Sad, when you consider how often he'd suffered at Elmyra's hand.  Unintentionally, maybe, but he still suffered. And it's this side of the 'intelligent' mouse I fear. Intellect minus compassion = ruthless dictator. 
As I mentioned before, when characters are created with honest human dimensions, in terms of personality make-up, it begs a fan fiction writer to delve into all the aspects of those personalities, for better and worse!   I plan to explore at least one of those possibilities.  I mean, really! How many times do you have to be told that you're not needed before you just leave that person to go it alone? I'd be told the most, twice. After the third time, bye! 
PinkyandPharnewtonPinky's better than I am, in that regard. He's sweet, kind and compassionate, and, for the most part, doesn't have an aggressive bone in his body. You have to push him on particular issues to get the submissive mouse to put his foot down. One case in point was when Brain wanted to use his new job, as the spokes-mouse for Brainy Cigarettes, to gain control of the world.  Pinky called him a Hippopotamus (translation: Hypocrite). Instead of realizing that he was being told off, Brain corrects Pinky's grammar. 
Another situation arose when Brain taught Pinky about the constitution in order to help his election hopes.  Pinky wins the presidency and then Brain tries to get him to do something that ran contrary to what he'd spent all that time learning, and Pinky refuses.  Brain's furious. But an opposing party discovers that Brain had tried to take over the world, by various means and he's is tried in a senate hearing.  Pinky comes to Brain's rescue by insisting that he was responsible. All he would have had to do was grant him a pardon. Then again, that might have raised questions about his own part in the fiasco, so Pinky throws himself on the mercy of the senate committee and is summarily impeached. 
While this action undoes their plans, over all, it also prevents Brain from possibly doing serious jail time for trying to over-throw a democracy. If said crimes were to be brought to the attention of the U.N. that mouse's goose would be cooked.
In all seriousness, though,  I couldn't live with someone like Brain. I've known guys like Brain. Co-workers. Relatives. I've even come across a few women like him. No fun in any case. These people were either overly critical of others, or they were right all the time, or good luck getting a word in, edgeways, or All of the Above.
   Only one was both physically and emotionally abusive and I wouldn't live with someone like that again for all the money in the world. If I were so unfortunate and/or foolish as to end up with another one, I'd leave as soon as it was possible. If I couldn't do that, I'd either commit murder or suicide. It's a physical and an emotional and mental drain to live every day, being told that you're an idiot as you’re being 'cuffed about'.  It's little wonder that fans (most female fans anyway) are Pinky-friendly and want to cuddle and protect him and even rescue him.

At this point, I'm sure there are many of you thinking that I should have myself committed to the “Please, Please, PLEEESE GET A LIFE Foundation”! I'm wondering that, myself.  On the other hand, the Please, Please PLEEESE GET A LIFE Foundation is for those 'happily engrossed in INCONSEQUENTIAL cartoon trivia,' such as the number of the Cartoonist's union or Beverly Hills postal code and numbers used by various characters. Dealing with ISSUES like bullying and abuse, however, are not trivial.
But this is silly!  How can you call this abuse?  Simple; If it was happening to me, I'd say I was being abused. Sadly, there are those who've known nothing but abuse and though they don't like what's happening to them, they don't know that there is anything better than what they have, or even if they do want a better life, they're afraid of leaving their abuser. OR, perhaps, like Brain, they are remorseful of their actions and apologize.  As the saying goes, though, that (apology) and maybe five bucks will get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks. Remorse is worth nothing unless the the destructive behavior ends. If it doesn't end, then the Sorry is a 'sorry' excuse to abuse on another day. Especially if the poor bullied soul continues to let it happen.  And no amount of tears or apologies will fix broken bones.
If you don't want to believe an animated series, then watch a movie;  'What's Love Got to Do with It?'  Tina Turner was a grown woman who put up with a brute a lot worse than Brain.  And, assuming the movie is reliable,  Ike was occasionally remorseful for his abuses and bought her 'sorry' gifts.  But the  abuse continued them because Tina didn't leave.  She accepted the apologies until she could no longer take the escalating abuse. In a past mention, Hildemara Waltert  (Her Mother's Hope) was a victim of her mother's emotional coldness.  No matter what good the girl tries to do, it's seen as weakness and she's percieved as a weakling. Still, she returns. So, Pinky's in good company, in a manner of speaking.
As I thought out ideas for this post....usually when I was at work, and couldn't do any casual scribbling, it dawned on me that PINKY was the more EMOTIONALLY STABLE of the two characters. See, when Pinky used the word friend, (when he called himself Brain's friend) he knew what he was talking about. He was never nasty or insulting. Okay, there was the odd jibe about the big headed character pacing in their page or something about Brain's not being able to apply for Rythmic Gymnastics because of the height requirement. (Halloween episode) More often than not, however,  Pinky was the one doing nice things for a cage-mate who seldom repaid the kindness.  Yes, Brain appreciated it, and would MAKE UP FOR his nasty behavior. Still, would it kill him to be nice, just knowing that he has a friend who would go out of his way (and then some) for him?  Is the quest for world domination so time-consuming that he can't take the opportunity to smile, just for the fun of it?  As the saying goes, "Don't knock it til you tried it."
I've come to the conclusion that Brain did what he did because he knew he could get away with it.  He assumed that Pinky would always be there, which, to Brain, was a license to mistreat the mouse he occasionally referred to as a 'friend'.  So, while I'm here, I might as well let you all in on a couple of ponderings of mine;
  •    First off,  if Brain thinks he can bully a so-called 'friend'  and get away with it,  what would he be like with unfettered power at his command?  I mean, if he can't treat a friend with any real respect, what hope does a stranger or enemy have? 
  • For all the times he's verbally slammed the door on Pinky, sending him away, has Brain ever considered the possibility that he might open that door, only to find that Pinky is no longer on the other side?  I, for one, would have LOVED for the writers to examine that theory.  However, since they didn't get around to it,  this author would like to take it upon herself, and find out what might happen when a good mouse is pushed, one step too far.