In keeping with the age-old maxim to write what you know, Chris and I are considering giving Robert’s character late stage Lyme disease. Or, not Lyme disease, per se. But something with mysterious symptoms. Something that’s difficult and embarrassing for Traysie’s character to talk about. Something that mimics a lot of other diseases, that makes Robert’s character have good days and bad days. Something devastating and disorienting.
I’ve been circling around some of my ideas about sickness and its effects for a few days now. Playing with some of our story’s themes. There’s more to say. Much, much more. I’ve just begun, really. And, as you might imagine — I’ll have even more to say now that we’re thinking about bringing the story closer to home.
Which is why I thought it might be a good time to take a breath. Step back for a minute. I know so much about this topic. It would be easy to rattle on for a long time. But tonight. Tonight, I’m feeling more interested in who I know than in what I know.
Writing this movie is going to be interesting and challenging because of the subject matter, but also because of the limits placed on the story by the actors themselves. Chris and I aren’t putting this movie together in the usual way — in fact, we’re doing it exactly backwards, picking our actors before we write the screenplay.
Writing this way limits my artistic license. I can’t make Robert’s character morbidly obese. Traysie’s character can’t be a teenager or an old woman. This isn’t Shakespeare’s time (and this isn’t a play), when audiences were used to suspending disbelief. Now, in movies, audiences expect realism — they expect the actors to be authentic, to be believable, to be true.
I’m not used to writing with these sorts of limits — to beginning a story with so many of the essential details prescribed for me. Knowing the actors like I do makes me feel like 90% of the story was always already written.
But I am used to starting with the characters. When I write, when I talk, when I think — I’m always far more interested in the who than the what. I can’t wait to see how these limits, and this intense focus on the characters, affect my writing. One familiar metaphor posits the writer as god, creating worlds ex nihilo. Since I’ll be a co-creator with the characters, the actors themselves, the way I’ll be writing will be less god-like. More human.
I think that’s appropriate. I’m writing about sickness, after all. A uniquely human experience.