Building Character Profiles While Fighting the Battle of the Bulge

Francine Paino

The Battle of the Bulge, (December 16, 1944–January 16, 1945), was the last significant German effort to split the allies at the Ardenne Forest….

Oops. Sorry. I wrote this at 4:30 a.m. I hadn’t had enough coffee.  

Although the Battle of the Bulge or the Ardenne Counter-offensive was a major military campaign and an important part of WW II, that’s not the bulge that concerns me.

We writers sit in front of computers or writing pads, or typewriters (LOL) for hours each day trying to convert into words the stories playing like movie reels in our brains to entertain others. We continue to study the craft – necessary to improve as writers – also done sitting—thus, we don’t usually get the exercise we need for good physical conditioning and creative thinking.

 Stanford University study:

Another interesting article, among many, claims that scientists have now discovered that exercising regularly, in any manner you choose, such as bike riding or walking, do improve creative thought.

However, a word of caution. Exercise cannot become another tool for the number one writers’ disease: Procrastination!

So, what to do?

For myself, now that my metabolism has deserted me, I feel the need to get on that treadmill—which I hate—and force myself to move along at a respectable pace, or spend 15 hard minutes twice a day with an exercise hoop – which I hate even more.

I’ve tried too many forms of physical exercise to list, but after a long, long story, ‘I’ve decided the treadmill suits me best because it allows me to study different characters in my collection of recorded movies, while meeting the demands of a workout.

Thus, while I’m trying (a child’s term) to take off some of the bulges in places that lumps and bumps don’t belong, I’m doing some passive character analysis and development too.

Among my favorites are the British ladies in Tea With Mussolini, set in 1930’s Florence, Italy. Maggie Smith is the elitist, widow of a British Ambassador, which she never lets anyone forget. Dame Judy Dench, an artist of limited talents devotes herself to helping restore artworks in Italian churches, and Dame Joan Plowright plays an upstanding British lady who works for an Italian reprobate dealing with British imports. ‘Plowright’s portrayal of Mary Wallace’s character inspired some of the characteristics of my Mrs. B. in I’m Going to Kill that Cat.

Add to this list of fascinating characters….Cher. She portrays a free-spirited, wealthy, boisterous and good-hearted American Jewish actress who finds herself deceived by an Italian-Nazi operative.

Another movie favorite is Larry Crowne, a very modern-day situation. Tom Hanks portrays the affable, title character in a story about how life can throw more curve-balls than Sandy Koufax.

Larry Crowne must change or perish. Hanks portrays his character with a constant optimism, even in the face of hard-knocks and fears; Crowne adapts. As he meets new challenges in his life, he also meets an embittered professor, played by Julia Roberts. 

Watching these and other movie characters change and grow in the face of conflict, and painful circumstances provide insights that help me show growth and development for those who live in my head and in my stories.

So, now that I’ve shared one of my methods of adapting exercise to the craft while fighting the writer’s battle of the bulge, I hope I’ve provided some inspiration. It certainly can’t hurt writers to stimulate the circulation of blood to the brain.

Moreover, there is an additional benefit that I’ve not seen discussed: the reduction of guilt. Guilt for not exercising and guilt for not writing in order to exercise.

So, get out there. Walk. Look at nature. Indoors, ride a stationary bike or jog on a treadmill while watching movies or reading books. Work your body and your creativity.

Happy writing!

Movie Review of Mr. Holmes

First off, let me say that Ian McKellan knocks it out of the park. I can’t imagine a better choice to play an aged Holmes. Everything about his performance was stupendous. Things like how he carried himself, to the minute changes he had in his facial expressions, conveyed exactly what Holmes was thinking and feeling

We see Holmes just after WWII. That’s right, WWII! So he’s 93 in this movie. Holmes is struggling with the degeneration of his most prized asset, his mind and memory. The idea was jolting to me. It’s a bit like Superman without his super strength. But, as we know, it can happen to anyone. And it becomes more and more apparent to Holmes that this is happening. So he must confront this impediment while trying to recall the details of his last case.

We also see his humanity. Traditionally Holmes been portrayed as an observer of human behavior. But actually feeling connections with people seem to elude him. Except for his friendship with Dr. Watson, his fascination with Irene Adler, and interactions with Mrs. Hudson, he has no relationships. The facts have always been more important than the human relationships. Certainly they are easier for him to understand. Living his life in such a sterile manner has ultimately left him alone.

So here he is, at the end of his life with no friends or loved ones. And he has to confront and hopefully accept some of the decisions he’s made over the years. Will he use this insight to make new friends? Will he find peace with his decisions?

Click on this picture to see the IMDb featurette! Don’t worry, no spoilers!

That’s all about the story that I’ll say. I don’t want to give too much away. If I was a total Sherlockian (is that a thing?) I’m sure I would have caught some inside references. Bees do play a major role in the movie because he’s a beekeeper. This isn’t totally out of the blue. In the story, His Last Bow, Holmes has retired to Sussex and keeps bees. So I wasn’t too surprised to see that.

Also, in a scene in the movie Holmes goes to the theater to watch a movie about himself, a movie based on a story that Watson had written. (How meta is that?) The actor on the screen was Nicholas Rowe, who played Holmes in the movie Young Sherlock Holmes. I wanted to shout out in the theater, “He played young Sherlock Holmes! McKellan is playing Holmes, watching a movie about Holmes, played by Rowe who played young Holmes!” (Yea, I’m not allowed out in public much.) But I was good and didn’t even whisper it to my friend sitting next to me.

So that’s it. It wasn’t an action-packed version like the ones with Robert Downey Jr., but the mysteries that were woven throughout kept me in my seat, wanting more. If you don’t watch it in the theater, please add it to your rental list. You won’t regret it.