Monday, August 20, 2012

Are Readers of Fiction Like Actors in a Movie?

According to actor/novelist Molly Ringwald, they are.  In an article in the Sunday New York Times of August 19,  Molly lays out a scenario in which all the collaborators in the making of a movie - director, camera man, sound designer, lighting technician, actor, etc - all maneuver to influence the version of the film that finally appears on the neighborhood screen. Miss Ringwald extends this thought all the way to readers of fiction. 

She writes: “When I write fiction, I know exactly how the words should sound in my head, but it’s up to the readers to imagine for themselves how they sound. In a way, then, fiction readers are turned into actors.”  One imagines a wrestling match in which readers of fiction join multitudes of film collaborators grappling to inflict their particular interpretation (to the extent they can, of course) on the final product - the movie or the novel.

The wrestling is probably most intense in the case of an actor approaching a role in a film. Molly describes her need as an actor to create a complete back story for the character she was to play. She writes: “Our job, as the cast, was to find the humanity in the stereotypes that we had been assigned...  After a while though, these exercises began to feel a little incomplete. I could control only my character.  Ultimately, the character’s destiny was controlled by the writer.”  A battle for control of the story, alas.  She extends to this:  “Warren (Beatty) is another actor who became unsatisfied with only acting as a ‘gun for hire’. He found the idea of performing only in someone else’s script like squeezing into a twin bed when your body would rather unfurl in a king. That and the desire to decide exactly what a person sees is part of that control.”

Molly Ringwald, novelist, ends by describing how a friend after reading her novel presents a highly detailed description of one of the characters all the way down to the breezy hippie dresses she wore, a description that came nowhere close to Molly’s vision, I presume. She writes:  “It was at this moment that I realized that writing fiction gives you only the illusion of control. Ultimately, I believe that the true collaboration involves the audience, or in the case of the novelist, the reader.  These are the people who truly make the characters live.”


Pa Ul said...

Your post is great to read. I was wondering why people have to dressed up their pet but still I have done it too.

Vero said...

This is a very interesting comparison, Larry. At first it sounds a bit exaggerated, because a reader doesn't invest nearly as much effort into imagining a character as an actor does into bringing him to life, but in the end the two approaches with respect to the writer are very similar. Both readers and actors bring very much of themselves to the characters, and take the control.

Thanks for this interesting post. :)

Larry Crane said...

Hi Vero - The comparison of readers and actors really gets interesting when a reader goes to the movie that evolves from a novel, and has to completely readjust their thinking about the characters they had originally envisioned.