The search for subject matter as a starting point for narrative construction in the telenovela
To author Benedito Ruy Barbosa, “first and foremost, a telenovela must tell a big love story otherwise, not even men will like it” (Fiuza and Ribeiro, 2008). Mauro Alencar corroborates this: “From comedy to drama, the focus can be historical or social. But you’ve got to have a good love story” (2002). However, the love story may not be the starting point for writing a telenovela.
Doc Comparato (1996) lists six different fields where ideas may be found: the selected spark - which comes from memory; the verbalized idea - that we are told by someone; the read idea - that originates in a newspaper, magazine or leaflet; the transformed idea - that is bom out of another work of fiction, a film, for instance; the proposed idea - commissioned to an author; and the found idea - through research or study. Three of these fields are more significant at the start of the process of working out a story for a teleno vela. The first is that of the idea selected from memory. An intriguing character that motivates the author to write may be associated with his or her personal life. Author Benedito Ruy Barbosa ponders: “Evidently, most stories come from imagination. But the essential part comes from lived experience. Characters I came across, for example, in my travels” (Fiuza and Ribeiro, 2008). The author observes that the first part of his telenovela О Rei do Gado/King of Cattle (1996) was based on stories from his childhood. Memory and cultural repertoire may emerge in the narrative without the author’s conscious awareness of them. An author has the freedom to write about whatever world or characters befits him or her; characters who are external to the author blend with his or her personal or secondary stories.
The second field highlighted is that of the read idea. Subjects that have the attention of the press or social networks may create a plot or a seductive universe around a character. Many authors have a small collection of clippings or digital archives of noteworthy news stories. Aguinaldo Silva, in Fiuza and Ribeiro (2008), for example, tells that the 1973 case of the missing boy Carlinhos inspired him to write Senhora do Destino/Her Own Destiny (2004). Alcides Nogueira, also in Fiuza and Ribeiro (2008), reports that he explores everything around him for ideas: books, films, plays, comic books, conversations in a dentist’s waiting room or at the hairdresser. In a period telenovela, research combines with information that serves the same purpose, as in Novo Mundo/New World (2017), written by Thereza Falcao and Alessandro Marson. To Doc Comparato (1996), when research is involved, a new relevant field of ideas comes into play: found ideas.
Finally, the third field of stimulus for a telenovela would be the transformed idea. To write a telenovela, authors may draw inspiration from the classics and even from current contemporary works of fiction. In Fiuza and Ribeiro (2008), Gilberto Braga reveals that his inspiration for Agua Viva (1980) came from Annie, an American musical. Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo (2003) has inspired many telenovelas, the most recent of which was О Outro lado do Paralso/The Other Side of Paradise (2018) by Walcyr Carrasco. In the telenovela I wrote called Malhaqao - Sonhos/Young Hearts - Dreams (2015), the main story was inspired by William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, which we transported to the martial arts universe, mixing it with an art school scenario.
These three fields of ideas are not separate; they function together. In another telenovela I wrote, Totalmente Demais/Total Dreamer (2016), for example, we began with a character living in a small town in the countryside of the state of Rio de Janeiro, who flees her pedophile stepfather and neglectful mother and goes to the capital. Her main challenge is to survive and, thus, reinvent herself. We were interested in the subject of pedophilia and had been gathering stories and accounts for a while. Writing about a survivor of one such case was, therefore, thought-provoking. The character’s first romantic interest was a young man who she met in the streets and would help her to deal with the various misfortunes of her new reality. Not until later did we insert the Greek myth of Pygmalion into the story - the creator who falls in love with his creature. We decided to attach the character to the fashion world. Thus, it made sense that a casting agent could see himself discovering a promising new talent in the fashion business and “sculpting” her into a top model. Hence, the romantic triangle was made up of Jonatas, who calls himself “an entrepreneur” but actually sells candy on the streets; Eliza, the fugitive survivor; and Arthur, a casting agent in search of a fresh face. An editor-in-chief of a women’s magazine, due to her love for the agent as well as her own interests, antagonized the protagonist. Yet the most significant antagonist to Eliza - played Marina Ruy Barbosa - was her pedophile stepfather and the paralyzing fear she felt of him.
Once the subject matter has been chosen and, based on it, the telenovela’s premise is approved, the research process begins. To write a pre-synopsis - that is, the main story’s principal thrust - without taking on secondary character clusters, the author may collect data and do his or her own research. But a researcher is essential for the final synopsis, with its secondary sets of characters and subplots, character descriptions and settings. A good researcher not only contributes data that is pertinent to the subject matter of the telenovela, but also brings up real characters who resemble those of the telenovela.
As authors, before production starts, when possible we seek to visit places that will be depicted in the plot and to speak to people personally, bringing to the narrative elements such as jargon, personal experiences and ideas for costumes and settings. It is also essential to be aware of the speech and rhetoric of real characters, never failing to observe differences among age groups. Frequently, before the telenovela starts, we try to ask our collaborators to visit the same places the fictional characters do and make lists of everything they consider interesting. During the elaboration of a telenovela, I usually cover the workplace walls with samples of dialogue, photographs, specific terms and pictures of the locations. When an author begins to write a telenovela, his or her workload and that of his or her team is exhausting, averaging 12 hours a day, at least six days a week, which doesn’t allow him or her to go afield. During the telenovela, the researcher is the author’s window onto the world and may bring accounts and stories from which to generate subplots or even obstacles in the main story, nourishing the author with information to sustain dozens of chapters. Research is also fundamental to the development of a plot that hinges on medical or legal facts.