Tuesday, August 11, 2009

'Lars and the Real Girl'—A Study in Character Development.

Last week my sister recommended Lars and the Real Girl, knowing I have a predilection for movies that intertwine unconventional relationships with strands of mental illness. (I’m sure that says far more about me than you need to know, but I love movies like Harold & Maude, Shine, Benny & Joon—stuff like that.) I think this may be one of my new, all-time favorites (it didn’t hurt that it featured music by Talking Heads).

Here’s the gist: Socially awkward Lars lives in a garage apartment beside the house where his brother and his sister-in-law live. It becomes evident that he has gone fully delusional when he accepts their dinner invitation, and arrives with his ‘date’, Bianca—she is a life-like version of an ‘inflate-a-date’ doll. The entire town becomes involved in an effort to help Lars work through his delusions.

What really struck me was Bianca’s effective character development, facilitated by Ryan Gosling, Emily Mortimer and Paul Schneider’s great acting.

Amazingly, with the help of Lars, his family and the townsfolk, Bianca takes on a whole personality and life by means of their ‘interactions’ with her. In the end, I just couldn’t believe that I was crying over a stupid manikin! Honestly, if you want your perceptions of character development challenged, watch this movie!

Director Craig Gillespie defines Bianca, solely by the use of supporting characters. That got me thinking about my own characters; about how much more efficiently I can reveal them by their interactions with each other as opposed to narration and rumination.

Now, as I rewrite Girl Running, I’m looking for all those places where I can breathe more life into my ‘imaginary friends’.


  1. First of all, that sounds like a great movie. Second, I struggle with using narration to bring my characters to life, too. They become much more interesting when we use dialogue and interaction to develop them. I probably need to go back and take a good long look at my work! :) Thanks for the reminder.

  2. LW,
    I like using dialogue also, but it’s hard not falling into the trap of sounding contrived. I think the trick of it also lies in the way they interact. Does she show herself as reserved, distrusting? Does the way he reacts to her—how long it takes to respond to her statement indicate something specific about him? All of the interactions contributes to the relationship, or give us a hint at what’s to come.

    My big thing is that I LOVE to explain what’s going on, inside and outside their heads. If I’ve shown that in their interactions, my reader shouldn’t be left with a bunch of question marks. That’s what I’m aiming for anyway.

  3. Good thing to aim for! I hope to do the same.