Welcome to my second installment of An Original Screenplay of Sorts (current working title: Right Here, Right Now) in which I illustrate the thought process that goes into my writing.
Today we will cover the infamous Proust Questionnaire, which I attempted last November for my two main characters in NaNoWriMo – you can read them here and here – but didn’t really think much of it afterwards until I read Indigo Grace’s take on the questionnaire for her own main characters. Now, with this new idea bouncing in my head, I might as well put our friend Pete through this line of inquiry.
Please note, once again, that I am neither a professional screenwriter nor a published author. I’m just here to demonstrate what has worked for me in the writing process, so workshop at your own risk. 😉
Your chief characteristic: Let’s just say that I still have most of my hair.
Your favorite qualities in a man: Two words – designated driver. Wait, that didn’t come out right. I meant “leadership” and “initiative.” A bit of fashion sense and some game won’t hurt, either.
Your favorite qualities in a woman: Ladies, ladies, ladies… hmmm. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, but the whole sexy-slutty-bimbo thing does nothing for me anymore. I mean – maybe when I was younger, or after I lost Lauren – but now I’m attracted to the whole independent, take-charge vibe. Not saying that I want them to dominate me, but I want them to have their own mind, and not be scared to think for themselves.
What you appreciate most in your friends: The best friends that I have ever had always had my back; they don’t judge me for who I am, and they’re always up for whatever. What happened to those guys, anyway?
Your main fault: I had no motivation whatsoever back in high school. I thought it changed when Lauren and I got together, and went to college, but… well, things haven’t been the same, and it’s hard to be taken seriously when you’re married to the prom queen and working for the guys in corporate.
Your favorite occupation: Lauren’s dad used to say that I had a lot of “occupations,” which was his way of saying that I didn’t have a real job when we first got together. Look, I was putting myself through college, okay? Bartending, burger-flipping, playing in a band… it was a good thing I got into business school, for crying out loud.
Your idea of happiness: It used to be so simple: TV, pizza, beer, weed… Then Lauren and I got married, and we were all about long walks and red wine and old movies. I don’t know if I’ll be able to come back to any of that. Maybe if I close my eyes, for at least one second…
Your idea of misery: The first few months after Lauren died, I felt like I could never live without her, so I did a lot of moping and staying in bed. Then I thought, shit, I can’t stay like this forever, so I hauled my ass back to work. Next thing I know, I’m getting promoted, and I spend the next ten years of my life launching Buckley’s franchises all over the Northwest. But there hasn’t been a time when I don’t think of her and bawl my eyes out. I still do.
If not yourself, who would you be? I don’t know, man. I just want to be respectable.
Where would you like to live? Brazil or Puerto Rico. Any place where I could be out to the beach in the day and look at all the lovely women passing by, then maybe get a little party going at sunset with steaks and dancing and music. But not in a hippie-trippy kind of way, no.
Your favorite color: Plaid. And swimming-pool blue.
Your favorite flower: Dude, this sounds so gay. Wait – am I still allowed to say that? Okay: Sunflowers. Reminds me of my first vacation alone, in the summer, crashing at a villa of a friend of Mom’s in Italy. Lots of eating and drinking and roaming around the Tuscan countryside, and all the beautiful women.
Your favorite prose authors: Haha, you said “prose.” Actually, I thought Heart of Darkness was cool, especially after watching Apocalypse Now. And I used to be into Hunter S.Thompson, but every single guy in college started to quote him and all of a sudden it became this big poser thing. Now I just read non-fiction – mostly Malcolm Gladwell – but recently I’ve started re-reading Dante’s Inferno. That’s some twisted shit right there. I mean, literal twisted shit.
Your favorite poets: Not a big poetry guy, sorry. Except for the Inferno. And “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” And a bunch of terrible haikus that I wrote myself.
Your favorite heroes in fiction: Do TV and movies count? Because I’ve been doing a lot of that now, TV and movies… I blame it on Game of Thrones. Would you believe that I used to make fun of guys that read those kinds of pansy fantasy books? And now I’m one of them, dammit. Anyway: Danny Ocean, Sherlock Holmes, Tyrion Lannister, Blackadder the Third. That last one I blame on my World History class in college.
Your favorite heroines in fiction: Ellen Ripley. Lara Croft. And… um… Pussy Galore.
Your favorite composers: If you asked me back in ’92 I would have said Kurt Cobain… but I listen to a lot of different types of music now. It’s all about setting up the mood.
Your favorite painters: Alberto Vargas, the guy who used to do the pin-ups for Playboy and Esquire.
Your heroes in real life: Nelson Mandela. Winston Churchill. Paul Newman. The Beatles. The Stones. Brad Pitt, that lucky sonofabitch.
Your heroines in real life: Besides Dr. Lauren Standish? Well, the last time I visited Mom and Dad in Florida, they let me listen to some of their old vinyl records: they had The White Album and Blood on the Tracks, but they also had Joni Mitchell in there, and… I don’t know why, but I listened to a lot of Joni Mitchell during that trip. So yeah, she’s up there, next to Mom and Lauren.
What characters in history do you most dislike? Long list. Looooooooong list.
Your heroines in World History: Lady Godiva, for obvious reasons. And I’d like to have an Eleanor Roosevelt of my own, too, but without the crazy marrying-your-own-cousin part.
Your favorite food and drink: Wood-fired pizza and an ice-cold microbrew. I don’t care how that sounds to everyone else, I want that on the record.
Your favorite names: Anything that doesn’t have the word “douche” in it.
What I hate the most: Hypocrisy. Saying something, doing the exact opposite, never meaning anything.
The natural talent I’d like to be gifted with: Actual cooking skills.
How I wish to die: All-out, guns a-blazin’, just running straight into the abyss. Doing what I love, and love to do well.
What is your present state of mind? As of this time of day, lucid.
For what fault have you the most toleration? Bad grammar. Also, doing keg stands after your 30th birthday.
Your favorite motto: The same one that I’ve had since I was 15: “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, then the world will be at peace.” That’s Jimi Hendrix, by the way.
A few notes: Pete seems like a decent guy you’d like to knock down beers with, but get him to talk – even before he gets drunk – and it’s evident that he still lives in the past without telling you that he’s a guy who Lives in The Past. He dwells on the details, but barely sees the big picture; he’s old fashioned (in his mind), but finds himself drawn to complexity and the unknown. And, yes, he also sounds like somebody I would like to sleep with, but it’s hard for me to want someone who tries so hard to sound interesting. In other words, an antiheroic protagonist and leading man who wants you not to care, but secretly does. And that’s what makes him worth my time as a writer.
The best way to use the Proust Questionnaire is to stick to the basic questions. Now is not the time to ask about “motivation” or “goal”; what you’re dealing with here is the character as is, so it’s best to let him/her talk at length. Don’t be afraid to let them contradict themselves; you can always go back to those later. Like the Story Premise Worksheet from the earlier entry, there’s a system of checks and balances built in place; you can decide on how to deal with your character based on how likeable (or not) they come across, and if something doesn’t sit right, you can always go back and work on that until they become believable, not just too good to be true.
Next: A possible script outline, or two… and after that, Iris Garcia.