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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Building Ella

Ella... what to even say about her? Making a villain is an interesting task because it's far too easy to get into setting up the proverbial "straw man" character. Ella sometimes toes that line closely. Making her the kind of person a reader would "love to hate" didn't take a whole ton of thought in the early drafts, but that bothered me. I kept going back and asking myself, "If she's really this brainless, antagonizing bimbo, then what in the world attracted Nick to her in the first place? And why on Earth is he still with her?"

Nick's noble "I'm keeping my promises" thing only carried it so far. It works as a plot device, and it's really one of Nick's prime strengths--but he's not an idiot, and he's not a glutton for punishment. In the end, the only good solution was to make some real changes to change Ella.

Forming the "new and improved" Ella only required a quick trip to the Wizard of Oz to get a basic heart and brain for her. In fact, in her revised form, Ella actually retains some initial sweetness and charm. She also picked up some clever subtlety that she uses quite effectively against her poor fiancé. I liked that, and finally, that nagging voice in the back of my head that told me, "She doesn't work for smart men" went quiet, and I found my zen with regards to  Ella.

Ella is a primadonna if nothing else, and a natural actress. Though I don't dwell on her acting abilities very much in the story, she really did fleece poor Nick and seized his heart with barely an effort. In her angelic guise, she really is the perfect "Cinderella"-- phenomenally attractive in every way. Nick loved her wit, her intelligence, and her charm. Her looks were a pretty nice bonus as well, and Ella knew that.

When the story opens, we're a couple of months into the actual engagement between Cinderella and her prince, and--secure in her capture--she feels safe in taking off her mask a little more each day. Nick finds this increasingly disturbing, of course, but he's aware that marriage requires work and maintenance to make it happy and lasting, and he's not so naive as to expect endless, honeymoon-style bliss every moment of every day. Because of that, he's willing to be appropriately flexible and forgiving. Still, he hopes that Ella will shape up once the knot is tied. Just the same, Ella's antics really touch off some deep-seated warning bells in our hero.

Ella is modeled on your basic abuser, and frankly, I never did like her character. That was the point. Originally, however, Nick's medieval fiancée was actually quite a nice lady--one you would actually hope would marry the handsome prince. I'm still not exactly sure why I chose to remake her in the image of a demon, but, for the purposes of the story, it worked.

I don't think I'll ever likely do another "Ella" character--at least not in such a substantial role as I have her in for The Cinderella Project. I have wondered, from time to time, if  The Cinderella Project were a movie, who would I cast in the role of Ella? I'm still not sure, to be honest, but it would be fun to figure that out one of these days. I almost want to say "Reese Whitherspoon," but I'd hate to see her play a jerk.

Oh well.

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