Why Supporting Characters are the Best

Protagonists make up and drive the story, antagonists are often the source of that drive.  They are the ones the audience is to care about, for it is their tale that’s being told.  But what about the unsung heroes of the same story?

Think of one story without supporting characters.  Yeah; there aren’t any.  There’s even an entire category dedicated to them at awards ceremonies celebrating films.  I’ve found that often those that I love most out of the things I watch or read are not members of the principal cast, but those that support the main players.

Examples:

Eum-Ja in Faith.

sung hoon como chun eum ja-EL PELO, EL PELO :3

Eum-Ja actually works for the antagonist of the drama.  He does his thing, does as he’s told, and is very multi-layered behind his soft-spoken beauty.  I seriously spent the entire drama waiting for him to switch sides and still think he should’ve.

Sir Leon in Merlin

Sir Leon, my favorite knight! (Link to other character photos as well, to remain somewhat fair).

Yes, Leon gets a big picture because I like this one.  He’s one of the Knights of the Round Table in the TV series following Merlin and King Arthur, and while in the beginning he’s rather a bystander, a bit part to give some good moments to our heroes, his nobility and honor do not fail to shine through.  And I agree with the fandom in that he must be immortal.  No other way to explain it.

Anton in Once Upon a Time

Once Upon a Time ABC | Once Upon a Time' recap: Tiny with Jorge Garcia | Season 2 Episode 13 ...

Anton the Giant is a sweetheart.  While initially wary of humans, he is very loving as well as curious of the cultures and practices of others.  It’s because of him that the magic bean once again grows, and it’s very satisfying and happy to see him settle in among the residents of Storybrooke, really making a home there.

Honorable mentions: Dromio and Dromio from Shakespeare’s a Comedy of Errors.  Read the play for them.


Now there are many different supporting characters.  Everyone around you could be considered a supporting character in the story of your life.  There are a lot, huh?  It could be that person who smiled at you when you were fifteen.  It could be your grouchy neighbor with the constantly-barking dog.  They touch and change your life in some way, enriching the experience and giving you the opportunity to see the world in a new light.

Stories are very much the same way.  Every supporting character should touch and change your principal cast or the story itself in some way.  Let me give you some examples from my Robin Hood/King Arthur WIP:

The Lady Eliza

The Lady Eliza ... but she would never handle a sword.

Eliza is a very unlikeable character.  She’s sixteen and married to a noble, viewing herself above everyone she comes in contact with, which drives Marian insane.  She’s a complete priss and unlike the picture, would never handle a weapon, perferring to laze about and complain.  She irritates Marian (and Morgan and even Magar) to no end, and Marian spends her days trying to avoid her while still pretending to help her under Magar’s orders.  She is a good source of information if Marian pushes and manipulates hard enough, seeing as her husband doesn’t think her intelligent enough to keep his secrets from her delicate ears.  So when some of the nobles band together to bring down the king for their own gain, Eliza is in on it and Marian uses that to her advantage.

Guinson Little

Guinson.

Much more trusting and friendly than his father and friends, Guinson is crucial in the moment when Marian had been captured by his comrades.  It’s thanks to him that she’s allowed to go free, and when he’s taken prisoner, she acts to save him, turning her whole life around as well as earning the trust of the rugged outlaws.

Sir Kay

OH MY WORD IT'S KAY.

Arthur is extremely close to his foster-brother Kay, despite the huge differences in their personalities.  While Kay is a huge brat and prone to temper tantrums, he would die for his little brother and king.  He is, in many ways, Arthur’s support.  If Kay thinks what he’s doing is good, then Arthur is assured that it is.  If Kay disagrees, Arthur might just do it anyway, but his brother’s opinion is always carefully considered at the very least.


Again, there are as many different kinds of supporting characters as there are people.  They should also get their time in the spotlight of your mind, because even if your principal cast is well-built, fleshed out and genuine, your story will fall flat unless the supporting characters are as real as their protagonist counterparts.  They support the characters.  They support the story.  And oftentimes, they win our hearts.

Cheers!

Ana

Character Spotlight: Lady Marian of Nottingham

Mah girl. It’s time for another spotlight.  I have chosen Marian from my Robin Hood/King Arthur Retelling.  She’s a spunky young woman that’s forced to live with Sheriff Magar at the death of her parents.  She sees the oppression and poverty rampant in England (I’ve put her in the early fifteenth century for now, at least) and as she is continually stirred by the nation’s troubles she begins to do everything in her power to combat tyranny and fight for peace and justice.

What inspired Marian?

Do you want the embarrassing truth or do you want me to doctor it into something that sounds better?  The truth of the matter is I love playing in the mirror and because of my love of Robin Hood, I envisioned this tough young woman who only pretended to be a man, her pseudonym doing much to protect her identity.  I began putting together the scene, and I decided that this needed to come alive for real.  As for what Marian looks like, she resembles a cross between my mom and sister, and Julia Ormond was as close as I could find.  (Besides, she was Guinevere in First Knight.  I adore that movie).

So she’s Robin Hood, basically.  What makes her go out and rob from the rich to give to the poor?

More than anything it was her upbringing.  Her father seemed to forget that she was a girl and she was allowed to run wild, much to her mother’s dismay.  She had always had a mind of her own and her father encouraged her in her independence, eventually actually giving in to teaching her swordplay.  Her parents were also very intent upon keeping Nottingham a safe and fair place, and when they were killed and the sheriff of Derbyshire took over, Marian got to see first-hand what tyranny and an iron fist do and it angered her.  Never one to sit on the sidelines, she decides to do something about it.

Does she have Merry Men?

She meets (actually, she’s kidnapped and manages to make them let her free) a ragtag group of outlaws.  At first they were planning on ransoming, then killing her, but as she proves herself to be of their ideals they begin to trust her.  They consist of John and his son Guinson, Haelen, Jeffrey and Barric.

John.

(John Little).

Guinson.

(Guinson Little, the baby of the group).

Haelen!

(Closest thing to Haelen I could find).

allen a dale, robin hood bbc. (joe armstrong) my fav!

(Jeffrey.  I couldn’t resist, okay?)

Cross between John and Barric.

(This is the closest I could find to Barric).

If Marian lived in the modern day, what genre of music would she like?

Hm.  Probably more musical theater stuff.  Something not too pop, not too classical.  And she would love the power ballads.  But Sondheim would take some getting used to.

What’s something she admires about herself?

Her tenacity.  She’s very headstrong and when she puts her mind to something, she never gives up.

Is there something she regrets?  What is it?

Her overall regret is accepting Magar’s invitation for her to stay in Derbyshire.  She now isn’t allowed to leave and when she attempts to regain some of her freedoms he punishes her through hurting others.

Is she a talker or a listener?

A bit of both.  She very carefully watches everything around her and speaks to cover up the fact that she’s ingesting as must information as she can.  She paints herself as a proper lady.

What does she struggle with?

Her temper is one of her greatest vices.  It’s often gotten her into trouble and now that she’s playing a dangerous game she has to keep a tighter leash on it lest it get her into trouble.  She also speaks her mind without thinking of the consequences — it’s another thing she’s having to keep in check.

How does she handle those she dislikes?

Probably not as well as she should.  She likes to escape, citing certain duties as a means to leave.  With Magar, she has to act submissive and it angers her.  He knows she hates him, but they’re both aware that she can do nothing about it.  So when Marian becomes Robin Hood, she makes it a personal goal to make him suffer as best she can.

If she lived in the modern day, what would she do?

She would probably be in college getting a degree in law or something.  To quote Bela from Yokai Ningen Bem, “when [she] decides [she] likes some[thing] [she’s] serious about it.”  She probably would apply herself to her studies until she accomplished her goal, and she would probably have a close group of friends who shared her drive and opinions.

How would she feel about Disney’s Merida?

In a lot of ways I think she would relate, seeing as neither of them want to get married, both prefer spending time outdoors with weapons and doing daredevil things, but she would disapprove of Merida’s treatment of her mother.  And she would probably think the bear thing was really weird, seeing as she doesn’t know she’s come in contact with magic yet.

What was she like as a child?

Basically like she is now but with less inhibitions.  Her mother constantly worried about where she was and what she was doing, and there have been several instances where she’s broken either a bone or something belonging to a neighbor in her wild escapades.  She now knows how to behave like a lady, even if she’s pretty grudging about it.

Who are her friends?

At the present moment everyone she’s ever considered herself close to is in Nottingham and she can’t go there.  But she is building trust with the group of outlaws and a strange woman has just appeared in Derbyshire.  Marian insisted the woman, whose name is Morgan, stay, even if she doesn’t entirely trust her.

What is her ultimate goal?

What she really wants is peace.  Both for herself and for her countrymen.  She doubts it’ll ever happen, but she applies herself to fulfilling her dreams to the best of her ability.


So that was Marian.  I’m actually struggling a bit with her story right now because there isn’t much action at the present moment.  But she’s very dear to me and I look forward to spending more time with her.  Biting remarks and all.

Cheers!

Ana

The Nameless One

Being in the mind of a writer is like living in the middle of an orchestra pit during Verdi’s Aida.  Music, beautiful despite all the shades of color, constantly swirls around you, sounding in your ears and lifting you to an entirely different plane, one where anything is possible.

Good luck staying in reality.

Ideas for stories constantly bombard me, scrabbling for my attention, pulling at my hair and clutching my arms.  And many times, these ideas are in the form of people, characters who need their stories told.

See, when I meet a character, it’s not an option for me to disregard them.  They deserve to live and breathe through the words I put together.  To me, they are real.  How could I deny a friend, someone I understand as if I’d known them my whole life, the chance to come alive?

So I collect them.  I have so many stories — and each story has many characters — that surround me, but I can only work on so many things at a time.  But that doesn’t stop me from loving my patient — or not — babies and getting to know them better.

One that’s been stuck in my head recently doesn’t yet have a name.  He needs one that isn’t from here, but I’m not that great at coming up with them.  So, here’s what he looks like:

He’s from a novel I’ve got under the working title, “What Unfamiliarity Does,” but it’s a lame name and it needs fixing.  It’s about three young adults who are brought by a man who’s a little mentally unbalanced to another world in deep political turmoil, and they are expected to fulfil the prophecy of peace returning to the land.  There are two divisions — those still loyal to the princess and the portion of people who have followed her corrupt uncle.

This little man right up there is basically the usurping uncle’s right-hand man.

Oh, and before I continue, I’m gonna be honest here: Ruki from the GazettE totally inspired him.  I needed a bitty person who was bad.  Ruki’s height and stage/media persona fit so well, and I love his little face.  He’s just Ruki, you know?  But while Ruki inspired my person, he has fleshed out until he has become whole.  The role he fills also was a huge factor in how he came to be.  He is needed in the story, and I think he’s a character who will constantly be full of surprises.  You never know what’s up his sleeve.

So, for all of us to get to know him better and because I am dying to spend more time with him, we’re going to have a Q&A.

Why does he not have a name?

Because he needs something exotic — preferably imagined, but nothing’s come yet.  The naming of a character is a huge process, and you have to make sure you’ve got it exactly right.  Mira.

Got it.

Well, now you see how my writing/naming/inspiration process works.  I have to have something spark it, and writing about him just did.  I wanted to name him after my friend Mirriam Neal, since she’s the one who introduced me to a lot of things that helped him come to be, and she loves Ruki as much as I do.  And jotting down random letter combinations inspires me, too.

So.  Mira.

Not exactly exotic or abnormal, but this is a guy we’re talking about, so yes, in a sense it is.  And now there’s no going back — he has claimed his name.

Sorry for the interruption — inspiration called.

Anyway.  Onward.

What would be our first impression of him?

Mira has an air about him that is distant and mysterious, yet there is a certain laziness.  Perhaps ‘lazy’ isn’t the right word … languid?  While he never gives much more than a passing glance, he takes in everything about you, and somehow, you know it.  You feel the danger of this man and know he cannot be trusted.

What does he think of himself?

He tries not to.  He does his duties, he shrewdly watches over everything around him, but he knows his shortcomings — and outright failures and mistakes — all too well to be comfortable with himself.  It’s one reason why insults hurt him much more than he shows.  For most people, the story is about them.  Each character, supporting or principal, is of the opinion that the story is theirs, and they’re right.  It wouldn’t be the same without them.  But Mira’s idea is that he is very much a supporting character in a play so grandoise the sets, the script, and even the actors will fall apart at the slightest touch.  He is a master of intrigue and manipulation, and he knows how dangerous this game is.

How does he treat others?

He seems very passive towards others.  He puts on a facade that is very apathetic, one that leaves the word problems to others and simply does the equation.  It’s a protection.  No one is able to get near him that way — his heart, his soul, everything is guarded by a silken film impossible to see through.

What are his goals?

The principal one is just to live another day.  He plays a very dangerous game and his desire to avoid losing is very strong.

What is his spirit animal?

Probably something like a jaguar.  Hidden in the trees, but a powerful predator.  You don’t know he’s there until he attacks.

Does he fight using words or weapons?

Mira?  Fight?  Yeah, right.  He stays out of every confrontation he can.  He’s one that likes to skirt issues, always taking the back-door approach.  If he had to choose one, it would be words.  He can talk his way out of pretty much anything, somehow pinning the blame elsewhere.

Is there anyone in the world he’s close to?

No.  He tries his best to protect others from himself and those that would hurt them.  And love would be a weakness — if anything went wrong, that person would be the prime target for his enemies.  He doesn’t want to make that choice between someone he cares for and his mission and beliefs.  In truth, he also doesn’t think himself worthy of love.  Friends, family … for their own welfare, he cannot have them.

How does he dress?

He lives in the desert, but actually wears quite a few layers that he will take off or put on according to his mood and temperature.  He usually wears things in either black or red, but he does love fashion and color is certainly a part of that for him.  He loves accessorizing.  Necklaces, bracelets … rings are a favorite.  It rather makes him feel powerful.  And his hair always has volume, and he is quite partial to red lipstick.

What is his role in the story?

I want him to be a very prominent character, but so far logic and Mira himself are telling me that isn’t possible.  But while he may or may not be prominent in person (we’ll see who wins this war), his effect on the novel will be immeasurable.

Because … he’s a double agent.


Ha, ha.  That was your teaser.  And goodness knows I won’t be able to get to the novel for real anytime soon, so I’m kind of harming us all in this process.

So that was Mira.  He’s my baby and I love him.

Cheers!

Ana

 

Favorite Screen Characters Tag

My awesome friend Tracey Dyck tagged me in this lovely thing.  (Look her up and read her list.  It’s awesome).

So, rules:

-List your ten favorite screen characters.

-Tag ten other bloggers.

And I apologize profusely — I don’t know anyone that Tracey hasn’t already tagged!  So consider yourself tagged and give me the link to your post in the comments.  Please, darlings.

Ah-right, on to the list.  Although I have no idea what to do with this, seeing as there are so many characters that have won my heart fully and completely.  I think these are my top favorites….  And I tried to put them in order from 10 to 1, but I think I may have failed.

10) EUGENE FITZHERBERT/FLYNN RIDER

If you do not have this on your board, you are wrong

I’m a sucker for Disney, and Tangled is no exception.  And as much as I love Rapunzel, Gothel, Pascal, etc., Eugene has to win my favorite character slot.  He’s so human.  We meet him as a common thief with sweeping dreams and an even bigger ego, but as he moves forward through the story, he grows and realizes what is truly important in life.  He starts off as a bloke so self-centered he wouldn’t even think of anyone else, but when the film ends he has changed in the most beautiful of ways.  He’s kind, courageous, and was perfectly willing to sacrifice everything for the person he loved.  And he has a killer sense of humor.

9) FRANCIS SULLIVAN/JACK KELLY

15 Struggles Only "Newsies" Fans Understand - BuzzFeed

Ah, Jack Kelly.

Sorry, Broadway, I’m sure Newsies is a mega-hit and everyone loves it.  It’s still not the movie.

Jack, despite his laughter, teasing, and swashbuckling attitude, is a very sad soul.  He yearns for family, for love, for happiness.  He’s sick and tired of being trodden on by the big-wigs in their lust for money and power — so he stands up to fight them.  He gets knocked down and bribed, but he doesn’t give up.  He’s lived his whole life scraping for a living, battling for respect.  The other newsies love him and follow his lead, but he doesn’t realize how much they care until the end.  His friends have become his family.  He’s finally won that happiness.

8) THE EVIL QUEEN/REGINA MILLS

This face #EvilRegal

Regina is one of those characters you can watch forever and always find another layer.  She has been through so much pain and suffering, some caused by circumstances beyond her control, some that she created herself.  She starts out in Once Upon a Time as the Evil Queen — her entire existence is wrapped up in taking revenge on Snow White.

Regina’s is perhaps one of the best redemption stories ever to be told.  Human souls crave love, and evil queens are no exception.  She ‘achieves’ her goal of destroying everyone’s happy endings, but her new life is surprisingly empty.  She adopts a son, and now she finally has someone to fulfill her.  But she doesn’t truly know how to be a mother, despite her love for Henry.  As the series progresses, however, Regina learns what it is to genuinely love.  Love is service.  Love is kindness.  Love is forgiveness.  And as she lets go of her past, of the hatred that burns within her, destroying her, she’s almost … almost reborn, in a sense.  Heck, it’s a hard journey, but she’s not about to give up.  I relate very strongly to Regina because I’ve done some terrible things myself.  I love her steadfastness in even just trying to stay on the right path.  It gives me hope for myself, too.

7) GUY OF GISBORNE

Favorite Bad Guy: If you've seen my board then you know my answer - Guy of Gisborne! His character held a kind of depth that made me wish he could be redeemed! Yes, he was evil at times, but he did have some humanity in him. I also loved his back story in series three - it showed a lot of things that helped me understand him better, and plus he and Meg were amazing together!

Guy is one of those characters so terrible but with so much potential for redemption that no matter what he does, you root for him.  Plus the man is drop-dead gorgeous.  He’s the sheriff’s right-hand man and while he’s not entirely happy in his position, he craves power and respect and serving the sheriff is a way to get that.  When Marian asks him why he works for the sheriff, he replies, “I choose power.  He is my route to position, standing.”

But all those redeemable qualities finally come to fruition.  His love for Marian begins to drive him, rather than his lust for power.  Granted, he makes many, many mistakes along the way, but I can’t help but love him.  Guy is — in my opinion — one of the few good features of the third season of Robin Hood.  His character arc is finally finished, and when the show ends, you can’t help feeling pride for his progress and a respect that he has finally earned.

6) CYRANO DE BERGERAC

Gerard Depardieu in Cyrano De Bergerac. Every time I watch this movie I think two things, the first is that  no one could ever play Cyrano besides Depardieu and second, I wish I was him.

Cyrano is one of the wittiest characters in the history of literature.  He is a literal genius with words.  He can make you laugh, make you sit on the edge of your seat, make you cry just with words.  He’s a poet in love with the beautiful, intelligent Roxanne, but his confidence as a romantic partner is so diminished by his facial deformity.  His nose is overly long and large, but while he is constantly rising above that insecurity, declaring his love for Roxanne is something he can never quite do.  All hope for him seems lost when Roxanne falls in love with one of his cadets, the handsome Christian.  Christian, however, is not good with words, so Cyrano ‘lends’ him his.  For months, it is the words of Cyrano that holds Roxanne’s heart, but she thinks they are Christian’s.  Even when Christian dies, Cyrano doesn’t say a word to his beloved until the very end of his life.  Even then, she guesses it and he still barely is able to admit to it.  He is selfless, and in the end, he is remembered as a brilliant mind and a great man who rose above every challenge laid upon him.

5) JARETH, THE GOBLIN KING

smiling Jareth gif

I know I basically did an entire post dedicated to this guy, but he is one of my favorite characters.  He has lots of faults, but he’s awesome.

Jareth is extremely selfish.  He always has to be right, always has to be in control, and always has to win.  He makes a formidable antagonist, even as his heart softens toward the young Sarah.

I’ve always wondered what his backstory was.  How did he come to be this way?  Even the woman he has come to love isn’t exempt from his malevolent schemes as she strives to rescue her baby brother from him.  Did he have no examples of love or kindness?  What terrible experiences have so hardened him against others?  It’s questions like these that make me hold him upside down and take him apart piece-by-piece to examine his potential for redemption.  I think he really has it.  But it’s going to take a lot of work for him to get back to a good path, and first, he has to want to.

4) THE BEAST

I don't even know what to say to this.(gif) XD BUILD THE SNOWMAN

By now you’ve probably noticed the recurring ‘redemption arc’ theme.  I think that that’s what humans really crave.  And I think the Beast is one of the best examples of a redemption arc.  He begins the film as a selfish, sometimes cruel, creature who can’t stand not getting his way.  He’s really very immature.  He’s been punished to live as an animal for ten years after an enchantress saw that “there was no love in his heart.”  The only way for the spell to be lifted was for him to love another, and for them to love him in return, before the rose linked to his life dies.  At first he doesn’t like Belle — she’s only a tool for him to be free.  But it’s not long before he falls head-over-heels in love with her.  He learns to serve her and be kind to her, and his heart slowly understands what it is to truly love.  He begins to care for his servants, ask their advice, and treat them with kindness.  The curse is finally broken when Belle also admits her love for him.  (Although, for the record, I cannot for the life of me connect that idiot-seeming prince at the end with the Beast with a man’s heart I had come to love during the course of the film.  At least keep the voice, Disney!)

3) BELLE

"I want so much more than they've got planned..."

This girl is smart.  She stands out in a “poor, provincial town” like a sore thumb.  Everyone expects women to be subservient and simpering, but that’s just not Belle’s thing.  She values education, learning, and kindness, and those are a little on the short side where she lives.  She longs for adventure, for a place that can welcome her and appreciate her without judgment.  She adores her father, and when he is taken prisoner by the Beast, she offers to take his place.  What an act of selflessness.  And at first the spunky girl is not too keen on her furry captor, but as he begins to change, she realizes it.  I think sometimes we hold people to a certain level that we expect from them, and even when they rise above it, we have too much hatred to actually see it.  Belle doesn’t do that.  She learns to see into his new heart and loves him back.  She uses her head, but her heart is well-utilized — she is a shining example of what a person can achieve.

2) LOKI

I don’t think it’s possible for a person not to love Loki.  In the first Thor film, he is portrayed as a young man who is often shoved aside for the glory of his elder brother.  In the Avengers, he has grown and hardened into a man whose wounds have healed all wrong, making him very dangerous.  In the second Thor film, his actions and experiences have taken their toll, but what really spurs him is the death of his mother.  Grief-stricken, he’ll go to any lengths to avenge her.

I feel so bad for Loki.  Despite his strength and intelligence, he’s a broken man.  He discovers he’s the son of a mortal enemy of his family and no longer feels that he truly belongs in the place he’s always thought himself an integral part of.  I think Loki feels things very strongly, so these new revelations push him over the edge, breaking his heart.  He’s mischievous and dangerous, and combined with his hurt things get bad quickly … and they stay bad.  Thrashing violently to get out of the pit in which he’s found himself, he just digs himself in deeper.

It’s such a sad situation.  We’ve all had emotional pain and we’ve all lashed out because of it.  But he is capable of so many more crimes than a normal human — being, y’know, not human — and at the same time, his potential is so great.  I want to shake him and tell him how much he’s capable of.  He’s done terrible, terrible things, but I don’t believe he’s past the point of no return.  I want him to come back.  I want him to find happiness.

1) QUASIMODO

Quasimodo, Wipe Out. | Community Post: 20 Disney Characters That Would Be Perfect For Reality TV

My favorite film in all the world is the Hunchback of Notre Dame.  Quasimodo is an exceptional human being.  His entire life he’s been trapped in the bell tower of Notre Dame (NO-tre DOM, not NO-ter DAYM), told he’s a monster, and overall emotionally abused.  Yet despite all of it, his heart is large enough to hold the empire of the world.  His sweetness and innocence is beautiful, just beautiful, to behold.  He has soaring dreams and a soul capable of the most tender of loves.  He’s brave, compassionate, imaginative, talented, and kind.  He can see past the skin just as he thinks others are incapable of doing to him.  His forgiveness and love are an example for all the nations.  He is protective over those he cares about and even loves those who hurt him.  I wish he could see just how important he is.  At the end of the film, when he is finally free both literally and figuritively, it’s enough to make you weep from joy.


Okay, that was long and I enjoyed every moment of it.  I love people, and characters are just people that I can revisit over and over again in ways I can’t really do with my average neighbor.  These people inspire me and teach me, and I’m proud to know them.

And Rumpelstiltskin probably would’ve made it onto the list somewhere except that I’m still ticked off at him for everything that’s happened since the end of the third season.  Emma Swan is another of my favorites, and — oh, my word, how on earth did I forget Jack Sparrow?  I feel like such a failure now….  Jack, forgive me….  Anyway, had I blinking had my brain attached when I made the list, he totally would’ve been one of the primary ones on here.  But I’m way too lazy to go back and fix it.

And Shelby, if I tag you, will you get a blog?

Cheers!

Ana

Got Mezzo?

So y’all know I’m an opera singer.  I’m a lyric mezzo-soprano and I love it.

What’s a lyric mezzo-soprano, you ask?

Joyce DiDonato as Octavian

(Joyce DiDonato as Octavian in Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier)

So there are, roughly, three voice types for a woman: soprano, mezzo-soprano, and contralto.  Within those categories there are several more, primarily coloratura, lyric, and dramatic.  (I could go into much greater detail, but I will spare you).

Sopranos are the singers that are the most comfort in the higher registers.  Mezzo-soprano, in the Italian, means ‘middle-soprano.’  Our voices are a little lower with the comfort level (tessitura) further down the scale.  Contraltos are characterized by their rich, developed voices that are usually in the range of a countertenor.  (Good examples of each: Kiri Te Kanawa — soprano, Joyce DiDonato — mezzo, and Marie-Nicole Lemieux — contralto.)

so helpful! soprano mezzo alto tenor baritone bass range chart

(Typical ranges for most types of voice)

Roles are often stereotyped.  The sopranos get the best, biggest female roles — it’s been that way for centuries.  The Queen of the Night in Mozart’s Magic Flute, Leonora in Verdi’s Il Trovatore, Susanna and the Countess in the Marriage of Figaro….  There’s a lot.  The soprano has that soaring voice capable of the most profound emotion and even the most piercing evil.  It’s no wonder everyone loves them.

Diana Damrau as the Queen of the Night. I think she could probably kill us all...

(Diana Damrau as the Queen of the Night.  The woman is legend already)

And I love a good soprano (my best friend is one.  It’s one of my favorite things to brag about), but often they overshadow the other voice types.  We’ll get to mezzos in a minute, but first let’s introduce the contralto.  As rare as a true soprano is, a true contralto is even less common.  Subsequently, they get the least amount of roles.  (Polinesso in Handel’s Ariodante is absolutely awesome, however.  Marie-Nicole Lemieux’s performance gives me chills of creepiness).  Luckily, I’ve heard that often they can do the roles usually written for mezzos.  Ah, imagine Rosina performed by a contralto?  Man, that would be gorgeous!

All right.  The mezzos.  There’s a saying that I will not repeat due to the inclusion of a word I’m not comfortable repeating, but the basic gist of it is that mezzos get only the witches, guys, and bad girls (or the maid that has all of two scenes).  Mezzos are rather underutilized, which is a real pity, but at the same time, the few central roles written for us are usually stellar.  Let me name off a few:

Azucena in Verdi’s Il Trovatore: Azucena is the mother of the ‘troubadour,’ an old woman whose last wish is to avenge her mother’s death.  She’s a sort of mad sorceress, a pinnacle of power within her ragtag group that gives her a kind of wary respect.  She’s only ever on her own side, and I’m inclined to believe that she lost her mind long before the start of the opera.

Elena Manistina (centre) as Azucena in the @Canadian Opera Company's performance of Il Torvatore

(Azucena)

Romeo in Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi: This opera is a retelling of the story of Romeo and Juliet.  Romeo is a determined youth whose heart is set on peace (and Giulietta), but who isn’t afraid of getting his hands bloody … unfortunately.  He’s a swashbuckling hero, brave but reckless, and willing to do whatever it takes to achieve the happy ending he envisions.

Bellini - I Capuleti e i Montecchi. Joyce DiDonato (Romeo). Photo by Cory Weaver. San Francisco Opera 2012

(Romeo)

Carmen in Bizet’s opera of the same name: Who doesn’t know Carmen?  She’s basically the original ‘bad girl.’  A gypsy who uses her sensuality and cleverness to get what she wants, one doesn’t mess with her.  Her motto is, “Si tou ne m’aimes pas, je t’aime.  Si je t’aime, prends garde à toi!”  Basically, that means, “If you don’t love me, I’ll love you, and if I love you, watch out, bub.”

Elina Garanca and Roberto Alagna in Bizet's Carmen.

(Carmen)

That’s not to say that all the mezzo-soprano roles are stuck in these three stereotypes.  There are many alterations of these roles, and we also get the occasional ‘princess’ one, as well.  Rosina in Rossini’s Barber of Seville is one of the best roles a girl could ever hope for, and it’s usually performed by a mezzo.  (Kathleen Battle just didn’t cut it, sorry).  She’s kind of a spunky Cinderella — the count (it took me a moment to remember the word in English) falls in love with her and he, the barber, and Rosina begin a hilarious plot to free her from the clutches of her mean, overbearing guardian who wishes to wed her for her fortune.  It’s probably my favorite operatic comedy.

Joyce DiDonato, Cherubino, Lyric Opera of Chicago

(Joyce as Cherubino)

As much as I love sopranos and contraltos and despite the slightly-lacking repertoire for mezzos, I wouldn’t change my voice type for the world.  There’s a certain pride that comes with the voice (mezzo power), and the whole world is ripe for the picking.  Nicklaus, Cherubino, and Sesto are my friends.  Their stories have become mine.  As I strive to make my voice worthy of the music that belongs solely to them, I feel like the luckiest girl in the world.

Cheers!

Ana

Character Spotlight: Nicholas Quartermaine

  Nicholas is my protagonist in To Befriend a Vampire.  Normally I have huge casts and don’t like to be confined to just one mind, but Nicky is different.  With my life-long vampire obsession, I have always wanted to do a story about this creature I have so long loved.  (And Twilight sparkle-monsters are not — I repeat, are not — vampires.  I grew up devouring a small book of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  Twilight stinks.  Reeks.  It’s putrid).  In Metamorphosis, the Vampires are devoid of emotion, rendering them evil by instinct.  As much as I loved my babies, I really wanted to portray vampires from a more human sense.  That’s what they were originally, after all.  Just people like you and me before they were infected.  So Nicky was just a poor kid who managed to get himself into a bad situation … and has lived regretting it for two hundred years.

Anyway, let me introduce you: Nicky, blog folk.  Blog folk, this is Nicky.

Q. Nicky, we don’t really have a picture of you — what do you look like?

I actually prefer going by Nicholas.

Me: Don’t glare at me, buddy.

I will be ignoring you, Ana.  And I look like a vampire.

Me: That’s descriptive.

Fine — white skin, really dark red eyes, I actually have a widow’s peak.  Oh, yeah, and I have fangs — see?

Me: Yes, thank you for scaring my readers, Nicky.  And guys, he’s actually quite handsome.  Strangely, he’s always looked like the stereotypical vampire — sunken cheeks, low, dark eyebrows, thin lips, slightly longer face, black hair….  It’s quite funny.

*Nicholas mumbles something unintelligible*

Me: This is basically what he looks like … with a sleek ponytail, white skin, and no facial hair….This looks a bit like Nicky.  He's hard to cast.

Q. So … do you not like your author, Nicholas?

Well….  She’s actually bearable.  She’s nice enough most days.

Q. So you’re about two hundred years old, right?  How did you turn into a vampire?

Yeah, yeah.  I was born in 1802.  And how I turned does happen to be my private business, although I’m sure Ana is dying to write it.

Q. She’s mentioned something about a watch that belonged to your brother.  Can you tell us more about it?

It’s very accurate.

Me: Nicholas.

All right, fine!  It’s silver and has magical properties.

Q. Well … what kind of magical properties?

It, uh, transports the one who holds it to fairyland.

Me: Who can make it work?

Someone who believes in magic.  Which is why I never figured it out for a couple centuries.

Q. So it was someone else who figured it out?  Who was it?

…Piper.  There’s a kid named Piper.  And if you touch her, I will rip your vocal cords out through your navel.

Me: Nicholas!

Q. Have you ever killed anyone…?

We’re getting off the subject.  Let’s talk about you.  Are you … tasty?

Q. All right, fine….  What’s your brother’s name?

…Jonathan….

Q. Where is he now?

He slayed Cherberus and is now the king of the Underworld.  Hades is his servant.

Q. So he’s … dead?

Yeah.  Have you got a problem with that?  Aren’t people allowed to die in the twenty-first century?

Me: Let’s change the subject.

Q. So do you sleep in a coffin?

I think it would be fun, but no.  That’s bologna.

Q. You seem very modern for a two-hundred-year-old vampire.

One has to blend in.  I’m usually only out at night, but just in case, I learned how to behave myself.

Q. Does the sun burn you or do you sparkle?

Fairies sparkle.  Vampires fry.

Me: He doesn’t get the reference.

What reference?

Me: You don’t want to know.

Q. So is Piper your daughter or something?

Goodness, no!  That would be horrific.

Q. How old is she?  How did you meet her?

She’s five.  As she’ll tell anyone who stands still long enough.  And when her drunken excuse for a mother let me into the house, I snuck into the garage and Piper found me.

Me: Piper found him asleep on a dog bed under a tarp.  It was not one of his proudest moments.

Q. So what is your proudest moment?

Not this one.

Q. How have you spent your two hundred years?

Humans don’t tend to like vampires, so I’ve been evading the hunters.  It makes life … interesting.

Q. If there was one wish you wanted fulfilled, what would it be?

Well, that’s awfully personal!

Me: Just answer the question, Nicky.  You’re exhausting.

Never to see another human being again.

Me: I give up.

Q. What do you feel about us?

You?  You’re the food source.

Q. So why haven’t you eaten Piper?

I just … she kind of became my responsibility.  As soon as I return her to her mother, I’m leaving.

Q. Would you eat her mother?

I do not want that much alcohol in my body.  Her system can get rid of it — it takes far longer with my dead immortality.

Q. Last question: if you could describe yourself in one word, what would it be?

…Ana calls me a curmudgeon.  I guess that works.

Q. And there’s one request.  Can you give us some parting words?

Be good.  And watch your families well.  Vesuvius might erupt again, you know.


I am sorry for my annoying vampire.  When I had the brilliant idea of introducing him, I forgot what an absolute brat he can be at times.  Especially when there’s an audience involved.  I promise he genuinely has a soft spot — he just pretends he doesn’t.

Is it sad that a character from my own mind is causing me such embarrassment?

Cheers!

Ana

“Hello. What’s Your Deepest Secret?”

Danger lurks around the bend  I’ve always struggled with character development.  I would get a great idea for a book, put together a cast of characters, give them names, and they would just stare at me with blank expressions, somewhere in their minds accusing me of not creating them properly.  And, as much as I hate to admit it, they were right.

My novel Metamorphosis was my trial-run.  I’d written before, and while my technique was good, the rest was sloppy and inexperienced.  I was working on a novel that had inspired Metamorphosis, and getting bored of it and excited for my new project, I abandoned it and began to write Fraina, one of my principal characters.

She had initially started in my mind as a Mary Sue — yuck, right?  Then her hair got shorn, I saw her petite little mouth always set in this tough line, and I witnessed the lightning-fast, penetrating look in her grey eyes.  She became real.

(My model for Fraina).

So, I hadn’t had much experience creating my own characters well before this.  I had always loved stories, but I had never really finished a novel.  Not even close.  I can’t tell you how many notebooks and Microsoft Word documents are two pages long, the few paragraphs filled with such promise, then abandoned when I realized I had no idea what to do with them.  The best I had done was a historical fiction novel that I really need to get back to and the sweet, pathetic story that helped Metamorphosis come to be.  (They will both get their spotlight.  Eventually).  Then Metamorphosis happened.  I loved the idea, the characters, and no matter how hard it was or how confused I got, I kept pressing forward.

Perhaps there is magic in the world.  Because somehow, miraculously, all the frayed strands wove together into something that I never could have accomplished alone.  Now I know how important it is to get to know your characters before you start your story, but thankfully my team of misfits didn’t kill me as we struggled to come to terms with the others’ idiosyncrasies and shortcomings.  As I wrote, I came to know them.  Brunnhilde and I had a bit where I thought she should be regal and wise, and she wasn’t having it.  She’s regal, yes, but in a fiery, wild way.  She was underdeveloped because we were constantly fighting over who she was — it pays to listen to your characters, because the story became so much better after I admitted that she was right.  (Thank you, Shelby, for helping me with that).

(Reference to Brunnhilde’s wings).

But with as much as I learned, even in the beginning chapters of my book, I still struggled with knowing who I was writing.  I didn’t understand how to accomplish that.  I asked my sisters, my friends, and they all said the same thing: ask them questions.  In desperation, I emailed my friend Mirriam Neal and begged for assistance.  She sent me a list of questions she asks her characters, and I still wasn’t sure exactly how to go about this.

I had a brilliant idea.  (Okay, being Christian, I understand that most of my brilliant ideas have had a little help getting through my often-thick skull, so I am immeasurably grateful for a God who puts up with me).  I simply wrote myself into a scene with them.  I basically had my five protagonists in Metamorphosis covered, but I needed real antagonists.  I knew their names, their species’, but nothing of their souls.  Here’s an example of my interview with Quintessa, the Amazon:

Ana shrugged. “You basically tell me what happens and I write it down. Everyone controls their own fate – I just make it happen, being the writer. But I can’t do it properly until I’ve talked to each of you and gotten to know you better. I’d rather write you honestly and as you’d like to be portrayed. I don’t want to make a mistake, y’know?” She refrained from reminding them that they were the villains, and in order for them to seem as powerful and real as they were, she really needed to interview them. She gestured at Quintessa. “Let’s start with you, babe.”

            One elegant eyebrow curved upward at the pet name, but she waved her hand and her companions rose and reluctantly left the tent, staring over their shoulders suspiciously.

            Ana dragged Takeshi’s chair closer until when she sat down her knees would be but a foot from Quintessa’s. Pulling out her dad’s laptop, she lifted the top and opened Microsoft Word.

            “One sec,” she said absently, frowning down at the screen. “Let me write down what you look like.” Jotting quickly, glancing continually up at the regal leader of the Invaders, she managed to write:

QUINTESSA

THE EPITOME OF ROMAN BEAUTY, EVEN IF HER HISTORY IS GREEK (NOT LIKE SHE KNOWS THAT). HER FACE IS OVAL WITH A PLEASANTLY DISTINCT JAW, RATHER RECTANGULAR. HER NOSE IS FIRM, AND HER EYES ARE LARGE AND BROWN WITH THICK, LONG LASHES. HER EYEBROWS ARE STRANGELY ELEGANT, AND HER CURLY DARK HAIR IS BRAIDED DOWN HER BACK. MAN, THIS WOMAN IS TALL! SHE IS ALSO VERY MUSCULAR, ALMOST LIKE A JAGUAR. OH, AND HER LIPS ARE MEDIUM-FULL.

            “There,” she said finally, “I think I got it. Can you read?”

            Her eyes narrowed. “No.”

            Ana shrugged, secretly relieved. “That’s fine. So, let’s get on with it.”

            “I thought we’d already started,” she said coldly, obviously irritated at the inconvenience Ana was proving to be.

            Ana laughed. “Not formally, no. I have a few questions suggested by a friend and I few I’ll add myself.”

            “Which friend?” Ana could tell that what she really meant was, ‘what does this person know about me?’ She didn’t care about ‘which friend.’

            “She doesn’t know about you,” Ana reassured her, “but she’s got some good interview ideas. So, what do you like to wear?”

            A corner of Quintessa’s mouth twitched, as if she were hiding a smile. “And I thought these would be deep, probing questions that I would be seriously reluctant to answer. This is a bit trivial, don’t you think?”

            “Don’t worry, we’ll get to the difficult ones soon, babe.”

As a result of my interview with a Vampire (ha, ha, I’m so funny!) and other beings, I truly was able to know and understand these individuals.  Despite their villainy, I love them.  I know their — sometimes-questionable — motives, their fears, their joys.  They blossomed into real people, one that someday, could even be called my friends.  (Considering they nearly wanted to murder me for invading their privacy, I doubt that it will be anytime soon).

Very Takeshi. XD

(Takeshi, the Vampire in Metamorphosis and my friend Ashley’s husband).

But even with this technique, sometimes it’s really hard to understand your own ‘babies.’  An idea I had after getting frustrated with Marian’s complete lack of interest in the project she’s the protagonist of was assigning them each a song.  I grew up a dancer, so my second home was backstage.  I have three different categories: Disney, Broadway, and pop.  (Opera’s hard to work with because a lot of it is so specific to the characters and plot of its own production).  My naughty characters were each given a Disney song and lovingly forced to perform it.  I would write from each of their perspectives as they had to belt ‘Cruella de Vil’ and ‘Let It Go.’  I carefully selected the songs that fit each of the characters — ‘Be Prepared’ for Magar, ‘I See the Light’ for Nicky and (an older) Piper — and as they performed, seeing their perspectives, getting used to writing their individuality, I became closer to them and could understand them even more.  Even their rage and irritation towards me for making them do all this helped me get to know them.  (Really, I’m lucky I’m alive.  Hugo wants my head).  They even had ‘I’ve Got a Dream’ as the grand finale — it was awesome!  So right now we’re struggling through the Broadway category, and it’s just as fun.  And Hugo may or may not need a restraining order.

Stages of Choosing A Disney Movie to Watch | Oh My Disney...@Jennifer Edgington Curley I feel like this was a way of life when we wanted to watch ANY movie in school...

(This — this right here is the definition of magic).

These are some of the ideas I’ve had to get to know my characters from the inside out.  They have become completely real to me.  I feel like they’re my friends, like they’re my children.  I love them very, very much — simply for being who they are.  I am so proud I get to share my life with them.

I genuinely hope that if you struggle with character development, that you can find ways to come to know your people.  Perhaps this blog post will help, perhaps it won’t.  But I know that you can find a way that will be true to you, your writing style, and your characters.  They will be some of your best friends.

Cheers!

Ana