Tag Archives: water for elephants

Combining Characters

Cover of "Water for Elephants: A Novel"

Cover of Water for Elephants: A Novel

I have a confession: As I work on the draft of my next book, I’m finding there’s just too many characters. I love them all, don’t get me wrong, but the last thing I want is a reader who has to make a set of crib notes to keep track of all the people who jump in and out of the story. Many in this cast are bit players – they come in, move the plot along, then exit, never to be seen again. So how do I thin down the cast?

One way is to combine similar characters into one persona. This happens a lot when books are converted to movies, and can be a very effective way of keeping the plot elements, and even character traits, but streamline the story. A very recent example of combining characters can be found in the screen adaptation of the book, Water for Elephants. I’ve seen the movie, read the book (loved it), and am now a even bigger fan of the movie. No, the movie is not identical, but it’s very true to the book. But two prominent characters in the book became one in the movie – in what I think was a stroke of genius.

Water for Elephants is primarily a story about a train circus in 1931. There’s danger, love, betrayal, and one fantastic elephant named Rosie. In the book, the main character, Jacob, jumps a circus train and becomes their vet, and eventually their elephant handler. The circus is run by two powerful and evil men, August and Uncle Al. Jacob falls for August’s wife, Marlena, but you’ll have to either read the book or see the movie to hear that part of the story.  It’s August and Uncle Al I want to talk about.

In the book, Uncle Al owns the circus and has a habit of throwing men off his moving train who cross him or are unproductive. His solitary motivation is the dollar. His role is important, but he’s a relatively minor character. August, on the other, is key to the story, the violent, schizophrenic equestrian director. One second he’s kind, the next vicious. Jacob encounters both throughout the book, but it’s August’s wife Jacob falls for.

Now, to the movie. In the movie, there is no Uncle Al (or I didn’t notice him, if he was there). August is both the psychopath and the owner – which blends into a character even more frightening than the two in the book. Is it the same? No. But it is extremely effective, and wow does it convey how dangerous a world Jacob has entered.

So back to my conundrum. Seeing how well the combining was done in Water for Elephants gives me hope that I can thin down my cast a little but keep all the key elements I need in the story. In some cases, it doesn’t matter quite so much who threatens the protagonist, just that they are threatened. I hope to take this to heart, and tighten up my story a bit more.

Readers: If you’ve seen the movie, what do you think? Do you agree that the movie August is as good as the August/Uncle Al in the book? Or did combining those characters compromise the story?

Writers: Have you had to combine characters before? How difficult was it? Were you happy with the results?

Click here to read the interview

Around the Internet: Bookish

The wonderful Evie at Bookish interviewed me over the weekend. She’s also giving away an e-copy of Whirlwind, so be sure and check it out. Thank you, Evie, you’re a sweetheart!

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Which First? The Book or the Movie?

With the release of the movie, Water for Elephants, I was faced with the new-age chicken-and-egg question: Do I read the book or watch the movie first?

Over the years, I’ve seen many movies made from books I’ve read. The first one I think I can remember is Shirley Temple’s version of The Little Princess. I’d read the book, and I remember picking out the differences, especially the ending. There have been many more books I’d read made into movies since then – Patriot Games, The Bourne Identity, The Da Vinci Code and Twilight, just to name a few. What I’ve learned is that movie versions of books can be very entertaining, but should be viewed as separate entities. They are not, nor can they be, twins. In some cases, a book and its movie counterpart can be seen as siblings, in others, it’s hard to tell if the two are related at all. But that doesn’t mean each isn’t entertaining.

There have been cases where I saw the movie before reading the book – most notably for me, the first three Harry Potter movies. I wasn’t particularly interested in reading the HP books at first (probably because my kids were too young to appreciate them at the time), but I did enjoy the movies. After seeing the third movie (which I loved – don’t hate me), I read the fourth book. I then went back and read the first three, and have picked up the remaining books of the series when they came out – before the movies. Again, I enjoyed both print and film versions, even though they were different, and am looking forward to the movie conclusion to that series.

So, what to do about Water for Elephants? I had the book (thanks, Jenn!), but didn’t have a lot of time to read it before our family movie night on Saturday. I did get a few chapters in, though, and got a feel for the voice and the story, which I liked. When faced with seeing Prom or Water for Elephants, I opted for the later.  And I loved it.

There are those that have critiqued the acting, but I have to say, the movie was lovely. I especially liked the way the violence implicit in the story was handled. Yes, it was PG-13, but considering some of the horror flicks with that rating, it wasn’t that bad. Even though I’d only read a bit of the book before seeing the movie, I could see where some changes had been made, but I also recognized some dialog lifted directly from the manuscript. It was a very good blend, from what I could see.

I do intend to finish the book, by the way – it’s my “carrot” for finishing my next chapter’s worth of writing. I’ll be looking for that part of the story I didn’t see in the movie, including more about present-day Jacob. But I’m glad I got to see it when I did.

What do you think? Do you always read the book first? Does that set your expectations for the movie? What about vice versa? If you’ve seen the movie first, does the book disappoint, or give you more story than you expected? Remember, your comment gets you entered in the Share the Wealth Giveaway.

And whether you’ve read Water for Elephants or not, I highly recommend the movie.

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Be sure and check out Meet an Author Monday, hosted on the lovely Lisa Sanchez’s blog. Just click on the photo below to check out what other authors are blogging about. Are you an author? Join the hop with us and meet new readers!

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