Character composition and complexity in a telenovela

Martin-Barbero (1997) defines four main feelings at the central axis of melodrama: fear, enthusiasm, pain and laughter. Four types of situations allegedly correspond to them that are simultaneously personified by characters: the Traitor, the Righteous Man or Woman, the Victim and the Fool. When all of these come together, they produce a mixture of four genres: the romance, the epic, the tragedy and the comedy. “This structure reveals to us in melodrama a pretence of such intensity that it may only be achieved at the cost of complexity” (Martin-Barbero, 1997). It is possible to recognize melodramatic counterparts in a telenovela according to the clusters associated with the villain (the Traitor), the hero (the Righteous Man or Woman), the ingenue (the Victim) and the comic core (the Fool). Although this is the matrix, when conceiving a telenovela the creation of multi-layered characters is needed. A teleno vela must keep track of societal transformations and, by extension, those of the viewing public.

Authors utilize many strategies to build and compose their characters. Aguinaldo Silva, for example, tells in the book Autores that Maria do Carmo, a character in Senhora do Destino/Her Own Destiny (2004), was exactly like his mother: “Her mannerisms, her words, the business of always being tremendously hungry, of being a matriarch and an authoritarian woman” (Fiuza and Ribeiro, 2008). In the same telenovela, his famous villainess, Nazare Tedesco, was inspired by the cartoon Tom & Jerry, where everything Tom does turns back against him. “Nazare was bad, but she did everything wrong. That’s why she became funny” (ibid., p. 48). Benedito Ruy Barbosa reveals that his conversations with locals during the research for

Pantanal (1990) inspired him to create characters: “Suddenly, this returns to memory and you begin to create. That’s how characters are born from these contacts. A lot is drawn from real life. Or from unreal life, who knows?” (ibid., vol. 1, p. 224). In Fiuza and Ribeiro (2008), for example, Giberto Braga reveals that it was the character of the drama critic played by George Sanders in the film All About Eve (1950) that inspired him to create the character of Renato Mendes in the telenovela Celebridade/Celehrity (2004). To Silva (2010), who analyzed Gilberto Braga’s work, the premise of All About Eve, a young aspiring actress who presents herself as modest and naive in order to gain the confidence of the famous stage star whose place she will later take, is also present in the main plot of the telenovela. “Thus, in Gilberto Braga’s appropriation of AH About Eve, the great lady of the stage played by Bette Davis was transformed into the successful model and music business manager Maria Clara Diniz, played by Malu Mader” (Silva, 2010). To Silva, the character of Laura Prudente da Costa, played by Claudia Abreu, has a profile even closer to that of her film matrix.

However, an author does not have full control over a character once the shooting has begun. A good relationship between actors, scriptwriters and directors builds a bridge between the text and the cast in the production of a telenovela. Aguinaldo Silva, in Fiuza and Ribeiro (2008) for example, remarks that Renata Sorrah contributed enormously to the success achieved by her character Nazarc Tedesco. On the other hand, in a panel discussion at the 2018 edition of Sao Paulo’s International Biennial Book Fair, Wal- cyr Carrasco (Vicentini, 2018) revealed that he once sought revenge upon an actress who was improvising and changing the character. He wrote a throat condition into the plot so that the character would say nothing for two weeks. The actress punished by Walcyr Carrasco was Elizabeth Savalla, in Chocolate com Pimenta/Pepper Chocolate (2003), where she played vil- lainess Jezebel. Many authors experience similar problems with actors who do not accept the fates of their characters, despite the director’s mediation. On the one hand, the actor is on the air, and it is difficult to subtract him from the plot from one minute to the next, particularly if the viewing audience has taken a liking for him or her; on the other hand, the telenovela is an extensive work in which anything might happen: accidents, journeys, catastrophes. An excellent example of this was the earthquake caused by a volcano in a Janete Clair’s Anastacia, a Mulher sem Destino/Anastacia, a Woman with No Destiny (1967), in which hundreds of characters died in a single chapter, thus making it possible for the author to change a problematic story that had begun with another author, Emiliano Queiroz, and raise audience ratings.

Eneida Nogueira, TV Globo’s research director until 2017, recognized that throughout the years, viewers had increasingly come to expect more complex protagonists, with high ambitions and a need for personal and romantic fulfilment. For example, in Totalmente Demais/Total Dreamer (2016), Eliza’s motivation was to help her family escape from her pedophile stepfather, hence her goal of making money; to this end, she enters a modelling contest. Throughout the telenovela, though, the heroine discovers that her mother had always known about her stepfather’s moral faults and never thought of leaving him. Beyond this, because Eliza also discovers that she enjoys modelling, her motivation is transformed, and pursuing a career becomes her new goal. A good protagonist must have a clear goal or motivation, credibility to achieve his or her goal, and empathy with the viewer. A character’s empathy bears a direct relation to the obstacles in his or her way.

John Truby (2008) suggests bringing ghosts to all the characters. The ghost may be a deceased relative. In Totalmente Demais/Total Dreamer (2016), Sofia, Lili’s daughter, died in a severe car accident, and because of this Lili became extremely depressed, and her marriage and professional life were shaken. When the telenovela was extended by two weeks by TV Globo executives, we decided to bring the character of the daughter back to life, making up an explanation with fake flashbacks to show how she had escaped death. The perfect long-lost daughter came back as a sociopath, very melodramatic. I learned that having a ghost that can come back to life may help when having to extend a telenovela at short notice. That week the telenovela had some of its highest ratings. In 2016, each rating point was equivalent to 240,886 households or 684,202 people, considering the 15 main markets in the country. The average of the week was 35 points or an audience of approximately 24 million people per day.

Often, the ghost is not a character who has died. In the film Thelma & Louise (1991), an example used by Field (1995) to illustrate the need for elaborating a character’s backstory, Louise’s “ghost” is that she has been raped in the past. It is this fact that justifies her violent reaction when the character realizes that the same thing is going to happen to her friend, in the same city. In the telenovela Totalmente Demais/Total Dreamer's 2015 season, the fact that Karina’s mother, played by Isabela Santoni, died in childbirth, brings a ghost to the character, who mistakenly believes that her father rejects her because of this and loves only her older sister. An essential narrative tool is the ability to diagnose what the viewer knows before the character; what the character knows before the viewer; and what the character and viewer will find out together. The audience knew Karina blamed herself for her mother’s death and therefore understood some of her actions. On the other hand, her father did not and this ignorance would prevent him from realizing why his daughter was so jealous of her sister, for example.

There is a straightforward rule to creating secondary characters or even antagonists: they must exacerbate the protagonist’s most essential features, especially through their differences. For instance, if the protagonist is a young rebel, he will have conservative relatives; if the protagonist is conservative, he may fall in love with someone who holds libertarian ideas. Different characters such as these force the main one to continuously question and reaffirm his convictions throughout the plot and specially to generate conflict - the driving force behind a long, commercial narrative. To scriptwriter and researcher Flavio de Campos (2007), a character such as this may be called a reverse character, given that he highlights, through opposition, the hero’s traits. Campos (2007) also points out the ladder character. The ladder character is the one who instigates the action of the main character with whom he is linked. The ear-character is the one who lends his attention - literally his ear - to the main character with whom he is connected. A secondary character that is the ideal complement possesses all three of these dimensions, under the premise that the most important of these is the reverse character. Even in the case of two or more protagonists, these might be one another’s reverse characters, to use the term proposed by Campos (2007).

Janete Clair, one of the primary authors in the history of telenovelas, created a universe of characters by investing in reverse characters. The main character in Eu Prometo/I Promise (1983) is Lucas Cantomaia, played by Francisco Cuoco. Fie is an honest, conservative politician with immense credibility at the height of his political career, running for a seat in the Federal Senate. Because he needs to keep up an image of being a good father and husband, Janete Clair placed an irresistible photographer in his path. He falls in love and this puts his marriage at risk, setting off a crisis. Also, the author gave the politician’s character a convicted brother of dubious mettle, one of Lucas’ antagonists. This character questions the politician’s work for an NGO that deals specifically with the reinsertion of former prisoners into the work market. Lucas’ two assistants bring to the fore debates that lay bare the politician’s moral dilemma, one forever offering positive advice and the other providing bad advice of dubious ethics. Additionally, Lucas had three daughters, among them an alcoholic and one who he soon discovers to be the child of his wife’s extramarital affair. Reverse characters force protagonists to reaffirm their main characteristics through dialogue and action, as required by the medium of television. In Bom Sucesso/A Life Worth Living (2020), I started the synopsis with the story of Paloma, a humble seamstress, still young but a single mother of three who has a tough life but manages to be happy until she discovers she is going to die of a mysterious disease. She then regrets all the things she has not done in her life. The next character I wrote was her reverse. Alberto is a wealthy older man who did everything he wished during his life. He thought he was going to die of a mysterious illness but suddenly discovers he will actually live. Their tests had accidentally been mixed up. When she finds out she will not die, the seamstress wants to find the man that “will die in her place.” Alberto and

Paloma meet and learn not only about their differences, but also what they have in common: a love for literature.

A character may help the protagonist to establish him or herself also by being a mirror. Therefore, I will add the mirror-character dimension and use Alice, from the same telenovela, as an example. Alice is the seamstress’ daughter. Like her mother in her youth, she wants to go to university. Nevertheless, also like her mother, Alice gets pregnant while still in her teens. Seeing her daughter go through the same things she did also makes Paloma act and reveal herself as a character.

In a telenovela, the protagonist is not static and will change throughout the plot. The more reverse characters there are in the А-plot, or main plot, the more fluid this process will become, given that the protagonist will be questioned and stimulated to reaffirm his or her objectives and personality throughout the telenovela’s trajectory. In Totalmente Demais/Total Dreamer (2016), Eliza, played by Marina Ruy Barbosa, starts as an immature, impulsive, frightened character who runs away from her pedophile stepfather after attacking him with a broken bottle. She steals money from the cash register, runs to the motorway, catches a ride in a lorry and winds up in the capital selling flowers on the streets. Towards the end, she is a rational, secure and successful top model.

Eliza, played by Marina Ruy Barbosa, selling flowers on the streets Source

Figure 3.1 Eliza, played by Marina Ruy Barbosa, selling flowers on the streets Source: Globo | Renato Rocha Miranda.

Eliza, played by Marina Ruy Barbosa, in the final stages of the modelling contest. Source

Figure 3.2 Eliza, played by Marina Ruy Barbosa, in the final stages of the modelling contest. Source: Globo | Joao Miguel Junior.

All the main characters also undergo transformations. Eliza’s “creator,” the casting agent Arthur, a selfish and hedonistic character, learns about love and generosity. Unlike what occurs in a series or a film, the writer does not need to know how a telenovela character will change. A telenovela is a work in progress; it is written while being produced and broadcast.

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