Monday, April 27, 2009

Zorro and the Plot Twist that Would Not Work

I'm working on something for MORE TALES OF ZORRO which is a joy and a struggle. It's a joy because I love the character and doing this brings back good memories. It's a struggle because there are two mutually exclusive things I'd like to have happen at the conclusion of the story.

This started as the story of how Zorro's father came to learn his secret. That would have been fun to tell, but it wasn't approved. I'm trying to save the best parts to tell a story about Zorro and Esperanza (the woman he's married to in the beginning of "The Mask of Zorro"). It's not quite clicking yet but possibly after tonight.

It's an interesting challenge to write a licensed character. In some ways it's much harder and less satisfying than creating your own. When you've created a character you can do anything you want to him or her. It's unrestricted creativity, and what's not to love about that. There's also a connection you feel toward characters you have created that just isn't there for another author's brainchild.

When writing a character like Zorro, there is a strange tension. It's something I think that every writer handles differently. On the one hand, you have to honor the character's existing back-story, established personality, relationships, etc. It's something the fans (and the copyright holder) want you to do, and I think they have a right to have some expectations.

That can clash with the author's legitimate desire to do something unique and fresh with the character. Nobody wants to write retreads of someone else's stories after all. But I think there needs to be a balance between these two extremes.

Years ago I read a Sherlock Holmes pastiche in which it was revealed that boredom and drug abuse had driven the detective mad. Unable to find a worthy adversary, he created the identity of Professor Moriarty and began planning crimes. Later, when even this was not enough of a challenge, he became Jack the Ripper.

It was a clever idea and (as I remember) pretty well executed. However, it violated my expectations of what the character was supposed to be like so badly that it nearly made me sick. The reason I was reading Holmes pastiches at that age was because I was a big fan. I really loved the character and his adventures, and the revelation felt like a personal betrayal. The writer did something that was perfectly legal, and artistically valid, but it's something I'd never want to do myself. Having been on the other side I think that the writer should balance his creative drive with the expectations of the fans.

So in my story Zorro will not turn out to be Professor Moriarty, or Jack the Ripper. He will be (I hope) dashing, clever, romantic, etc. I hope I can bring something uniquely mine to the story, but even more I hope I can capture some of the magic that I felt when I first saw Guy Williams or Tyrone Power or Alain Delon out fencing and outwitting the forces or tyranny and injustice. That part feels even more important to me than adding my own special touches.

Speaking of, I have a plot twist to grapple with!

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