Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing

Hubby and I are sitting here watching the greatest summer movie of all time, The Greatest Show On Earth with Charleton Heston, Jimmy Stewart, Betty Hutton, and Cornel Wilde.

Because I can't just watch a movie anymore--I have to analyze it--I ask hubby who he thinks is the main character. By now, he just rolls with my craft obsession. We launch into an intense discussion about this and several more movies of which that question needs to be asked.

Regarding the movie of topic, I listed the four mains above, but they each have strong storylines, each have plenty to lose--the criteria for knowing who the main character is.

Heston is the owner of the circus. A lot happens under the big top, and he's responsible for it all. What about Stewart? He plays a clown who hides under his makeup. He's a doctor who is responsible for the death of a patient. And Hutton? She fights for the center ring and finally gets it because of a fallen comrad. Her guilt eats away at her. Wilde has an accident. Is his trapeze career over? But above all four main characters, there is one that I haven't mentioned yet.

Or have I?

Take the movie, Twister, another summer fave. A romantic story between Helen Hunt and Bill
Paxton ensues. One would think they share top billing. But do they? Maybe the main character is someone different entirely. Yes, I have mentioned that character.

What about Showboat? There are a lot of characters in that story. Who is the main character? Or The Alamo? Rich history (although somewhat inaccurate) is told through the characters, but the Texas mission itself is the primary one we care the most about.

May I suggest that the question isn't WHO is the main character in each of these stories, but WHAT?

Midway, a WWII movie with a slew of characters and storylines, was actually about the island, Midway, and the battles fought over it for control. The Japanese wanted it to launch attacks from, the Americans owned it, and defended it to keep that from happening. In this case, the island has the most to lose.

Yes, I'm suggesting that the main character need not be human. I'm sure you can think of several movies where you aren't sure who the main character is. In that case, perhaps the backdrop holds that honor.

In Twister, the backdrop is the storms and finally, that one F5 that nearly takes the characters lives, but actually leads Hunt and Paxton to success in their research for an early warning system. As such, the tornado loses its punch because it "knows" it can no longer surprise people in the middle of the night. That final twister is the main character.

And in The Greatest Show On Earth, the circus is the main character. In the final scene, it is crippled from a train wreck. Will the show go on? The circus breathes life and the characters under its canvas are its heartbeat. And to bring that point home, the boss man, Heston, is accused of having sawdust in his veins.

Here's something else to ponder. Could the main character be something that isn't tangible? An ideal perhaps. Take Journey to the Center of the Earth. Could the main character be the journey itself? Or is that just the backdrop? Does the journey have the most to lose? Hm. Perhaps not. What about The Hunt for Red October?

A Russian submarine captain defects, taking the Red October with him. Now the US and the Russians are hunting for it. Is the sub the main character, or the hunt for the sub? The title suggests the latter. That hunt is what drives the movie. It is important for both parties to be the first to find the sub. I suggest that the Hunt is the main character.

We are now taught that you must have one character for the readers to identify with. Some storylines call for a plethora of characters and plots. Yes, by today's standards, we may have to comply and showcase actual people, especially the new author. But once you're seasoned, and really know what you're doing, it would be great to see stories where the backdrops take center stage.

As you think about writing that breakout novel, remember to create a strong backdrop. Make it a character in itself, and maybe, it will steal the spotlight. Wouldn't that be awesome?

Consider the following movies, (which hubby helped me compile) and decide for yourself. Is the title character the main, or is it simply the backdrop?

The African Queen
The Poseidon Adventure
The Titanic
Stage Coach
The War Wagon
Air Force One
Towering Inferno
Apollo 13
The Rock
42nd Street
New York, New York
South Pacific
Jewel of the Nile
Police Academy
Back Draft
Big Trouble in Little China
Murder on the Orient Express
Holiday Inn
Gunfight at the OK Corral
How the West Was Won
Royal Wedding
The Great Race
The Great Escape
Stalag 13
The Guns of Navarone
The Bridge over the River Kwai
The television shows:
Gilligan's Island
The Love Boat
Fantasy Island

1 comment:

Denise Miller Holmes said...

Great insights, Kathy. I enjoyed reading this. I laughed, I cried, and my brain was stretched, which felt good. :)