Last week, I discussed how to bring an established literary character into your work. However, I neglected to mention perhaps the best example of this process to date, which I plan to rectify today. This work comes from the mind of British comic writer Alan Moore, who achieved tremendous fame with both his licensed work (Batman: The Killing Joke, Swamp Thing, For the Man Who Has Everything) and his original stories (Watchmen, V For Vendetta, From Hell). However, he has also done an intriguing mix of the two, merging classic characters of largely British literature, with stories and plots that could easily be part of any modern comic. This is that tale, the story derived from so many others- The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
Beginning right in the aftermath of Dracula, the graphic novel begins with Mina Harker, now divorced and disgraced, being recruited into the British government by Campion Bond (grandfather of Ian Fleming’s James Bond). She is assigned to recruit a team of literary characters- Allan Quartermain (from H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mine), Dr. Jekyll (Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde), Hawley Griffin (H.G. Well’s The Invisible Man), while being guided by Captain Nemo (Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea). Once assembled, the League must do battle with Fu Manchu for a deadly substance, only to unknowingly hand it to their dishonest employer, Professor Moriarty (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes). The Leauge is able to wrestle the substance back, with Mycroft Holmes taking over as employer, just as meteorites fall towards London (hinting at H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds).
What Writers Can Learn- Adaptation, Revival, Character Study
While some may be familiar with this title through the disastrous film adaptation (which Moore has decried, along with all other adaptions of his work), the source material is truly amazing. Moore’s stories wisely focuses on very well known novels, but throughout the volumes (the above story is only volume 1), he sprinkles in various characters from Dr. Moreau to John Carter, making this comic a tremendous grab for literary minded readers. And rather then simply name drop, Moore makes sure each character has value- the members of the League each bring something special to the team, John Carter forces the Martians from Mars and onto Earth, and Dr. Moreau has knowledge of a compound needed to stop the Martian takeover.
However, Moore also works to portray these established characters in their original light. Captain Nemo is portrayed as Indian, a detail from the original text usually ignored, and is, true to form, quick to leave the League upon a seeming betrayal. The Invisible Man, who suffered from anger and madness in the novel, is shown with the same issues, being found in a convent where ‘immaculate conception’ is occurring. He proves to be a traitor in later volumes, where he attacks Mina, and hands over Britain to invaders. These traits are also expanded as the story progresses- Hyde, for all his savagery, is shown to be capable of civility and heroism, and becomes friends with Mina (who, as in Dracula, shows quiet intelligence as leader and is desired by ‘monsters’). Quartermain, the rugged hero, has aged and while still of value, is generally underplayed and seems aware of his age. There is even a stab at modern works, with an unnamed take on Harry Potter that is likely to shock fans. But at the same time, seeing these characters together in a group is a true treat for readers. Plotting a group story means making sure that the characters are strong enough to stand alone, but bring value to a group. Here, we have an established group that has never before worked together. Readers are familiar with the names, but are able to see new takes and look at how such a ragtag group might both succeed and fail to work together.
LOEG is a worthwhile read simply because of the strong writing of Alan Moore, but it offers a wealth of literature as well. Writer can learn about expanding upon established characters, and with luck, find new sources to draw upon for their work. At the same time, they will see strong group dynamics, some rather dark twists, and strong character devolpemtn for iconic heroes and villains. Simply put, this is a not to be missed literary tool that will open doors for newer and stronger writing from anyone who reads it.
Before I go, a Happy Thanksgiving to my readers, and remember that my giveaway will end after the holiday, so be sure to register if you haven’t already. And finally, I will be appearing at the Cranford NJ Library next week, so be sure to stop by if you’re in the area. Happy Turkey Day!
As I’ve mentioned before on Points of Light, writers should take inspiration from all sources, no matter how they may differ from their own likes and dislikes. For example, I’ve written about how writers can learn about group interaction from watching/reading Justice League and tragedy from Darkman. However, today’s piece of inspiration is a very intense study of character growth and interaction that is often overlooked by many due to its age and audience. Yet it still stands to me as a strong, powerful example of character-building, growth and dynamics. So for this POL, I give you perhaps the strongest work of the late John Hughes- The Breakfast Club.
The Breakfast Club is a classic 80’s teen movie, dealing with five teenagers serving Saturday detention in Illinois. They are each from a different school clique, defining themselves as an athlete, brain, princess, criminal, and basket case. As they are watched over by their abusive vice principal, the teens are forced to interact with each other, which at first causes intense strife, but slowly causes them to bond as well. Eventually, they begin to reveal their personal lives to each other, showing how their lives differ from what they present themselves as in school. And though they bond, they admit they have no idea if they will be friends on Monday morning.
What Writers Can Learn: Group Dynamics, Character Depth, Insight
One of John Hughes’ themes with this film was how people are more willing to open up to strangers then to people they know. It’s an interesting theme for writers to examine, especially because such characters don’t need to have a written history together, and can be as opposite as possible. That especially works here, as every character is unique and different from everyone around them. Just imagining having characters like a ‘princess’ and a ‘criminal’ locked in a room together is fascinating for a writer to imagine. It’s especially fascinating to imagine this as each character type is someone that we can all remember being or seeing in high school. So already, the reader can imagine the pressure cooker from putting these characters together. They envision a massive blow up, but at the same time, there is always that question of whether these characters can truly interact with each other and find something in common.
That leads Into what truly makes TBC unique- the depth of the characters. Since the film is in one location with six characters, they have to be written strongly and have different sides to them. While everyone struggles with their initial meetings and interaction, that struggle also makes them learn about each other. The character of Claire, for example, is viewed as the spoiled princess, but reveals her parents use her as a weapon against each other, and that she feels tremendous pressure from the popular kids she hangs out with. Alison starts as a basketcase, but is ignored by her parents, and acts, dresses, and speaks strangely in order to get attention. Andrew the jock is trapped in wrestling because of his obsessive father, who is also the reason he pulled the shameful attack that landed him in detention. And Brian, the brain, is under similar academic pressure, to the point where he considered suicide over a failing grade.
However, the most surprising depth is from the criminal of John Bender, who starts the film as a brash and rude youth, constantly aggravating the vice principal, Richard Vernon. While Bender is initially agonistic to everyone else, he slowly reveals why- he is from an abusive family, and constantly told by everyone that he will never amount to anything, despite being insightful and showing signs of being a good person. Even Vernon, an educator, viciously threatens and humiliates Bender, even threatening to come after him when he is finally thrown out of school. It is those constant attacks and revelations that causes the other students to start bonding around Bender and see each other differently than their perceived images. It also helps them to ask the question of what they will amount to, and if they will end up like their parents. As for Vernon, even he gets some depth, as the janitor hints that he became disillusioned with teaching, and that his anger at the students stems from his emotional abandonment of his career.
But perhaps the strongest part of the film, that writers must pay attention to, is the simple question that the film ends on- can the characters move past their perceptions? Claire reminds the characters about how easy is it for them to fall under pressure to ignore each other. And the movie ends without answering the question either. And so this teen movie asks us to look at a question that both teens and adults have to face- do we go with the crowd and lose ourselves, or can we rise above the crowd and be true to ourselves? And rather than answer that question, the movie does what a good story should- make the reader answer it for themselves.
The Breakfast Club will always be viewed as a teen film, but that does not deny how important it is as a show of strong characters and what makes them work alone and together. Seeing these characters interact will not only inspire writers to make their own, but also how to put them together and interact. That interaction alone drives the story, which is what the best interactions should. And most of all, it uses that interaction and deep characterization to make the viewer ask themselves a serious question about their lives, and the person he or she wants to be. For that reason alone, TBC deserves to not be forgotten about, no matter how far from their teenage years a person might be.
On October 26th, I will be signing copies of The Lightrider Journals at the Clark Public Library in Clark NJ, from 2-4 pm, as part of The Local Authors Meet and Greet. If you live in or near the area, please stop by and show your support for Lightrider and all the authors involved.