Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Secrets of the Silver Screen: The Most

Satine works at the Moulin Rouge. Known as the Sparkling Diamond, she is the most beautiful, the most talented and the most sought after courtesan there.

The Terminator was sent back in time on a mission. He is the most tenacious, the most single-minded and the most destructive killing machine on Earth.

Vito Corleone is the most persuasive mafia man out there, and if he makes you an offer you can't refuse, you most certainly shouldn't.

Anakin Skywalker wants to become a Jedi Knight. He is the most vulnerable, the most intuitive and the most conflicted man ever to become an apprentice.

A storm is brewing. It is the most perfect storm the Atlantic has ever seen.

A ship crashes far out at sea, and its survivors discover the most secret, self-contained island in the world, along with its most fearsome--and most sympathetic--beast.

A most ordinary house lands on a wicked witch. However she is not the most cruel, ugly and cunning witch in Oz; that witch is still alive and biding her time before stealing the most beautiful ruby slippers from the most far-flung girl in this most fantastical Technicolor world.

Kathy Bates gave Oscar-winning life to Annie Wilkes, the most deranged fan of all time, while Glenn Close played the most messed up, obsessive ex-lover on the big screen (and scared the most number of men into being faithful in real life).

So what's the deal with The Most? How important is it in telling a great story?

Take a sec to think about your favorite movies and chances are you're going to find a "most" somewhere...probably more than one. Though setting might hold the most drama (as in Perfect Storm), more often a film's extreme feature will be linked with one or more characters.

It IS important. Characters who are The Most captivate with their black-and-whiteness, making it clear who to root for, who to boo for, and even sharpening our own thoughts on issues that might otherwise have seemed gray. Because these extreme characters reach in and grab hold with such gluey goodness, they take on power and can become iconic. For example, long after a movie has finished, if we're made to think of police inspectors, our brain leaps to the known range, immediately targeting The Most--and we think of Clouseau. Those of us subjected to the 80s slasher films might dredge up an image of dear Freddy when the subject of nightterrors or long nails comes up (shudders).

How about:
Underdog boxers?
Undercover agents?
Snake-fearing adventurers?

Does it work for books? Absolutely. Who's the most famous teenaged wizard? Who were the most star-crossed lovers? Who was the most selfish Southern belle? The most fearsome rabid dog? Writers who choose to reach for the outer limits when creating characters are essentially carving a spot for them in our memories.

Suffer from weak characters? Reach for The Most.

2 Comments:

Blogger thea mcginnis said...

great heads-up, ter, especially when you just can't capture the fullness of an important character - hero or villain! great examples - thanks!

11:31 AM  
Blogger Writer Unboxed said...

My pleasure, Thea!

7:38 PM  

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