That’s a Wrap! Finding Closure with Characters
Last day in character, on set. Final revision on a novel. Screenplay’s bought and produced.
We finish creative work all the time, but we don’t always give ourselves the grace of actually closing our relationships with our characters. Most of us have projects lined up, already started or waiting in queue. And we tend to move mentally toward them as we finish up a current one. We’re busy, we don’t have time.
But rushing forward without taking time to find closure can be risky to our well-being and our new work. Why? Because we spend considerable amounts of time emotionally and physically invested in characters and we need to be emotionally available for the next one.
Tough emotions are part of the work
I’m currently finishing up Restoration*, a script that dives deep into the emotional interior of three scarred war veterans who must navigate the unfamiliarity of life after war and each other while trying to save their condemned house from being destroyed. The fabric of their story is steeped in tough terrain – from torture, from guilt, from being left helpless to make a difference and save others. And they’re asking relevant questions that we are all facing about the rationale behind going to war to impose democracy.
I know these characters well, they trust me fully as the First Trustee of their Story – but it hasn’t been an easy journey for me emotionally to work with them. It won’t be easy for the actors who will embody and carry their weight. And as I finish this up, there’s another Story, another set of powerful characters waiting for my attention, again, a Story that will be tough to carry.
Tough emotions are part of the fabric of stories that resonate deeply with the human spirit. They have the ability to touch places in us that we prefer not to go – unless a Story takes us there. As artists, we accept that the challenging emotions of our characters are part of our work.
Our experiences of characters are real
When it’s time to say goodbye, our logical minds argue that characters aren’t “real” so we minimize our departure. But our experiences of characters are real. And these experiences are what linger in us when the work is done. When you embody a character you think, see and feel that character’s emotions, you carry the weight of their pain, their struggles, their crimes, their pasts, their decisions. You get to know them better than anyone else knows them and they learn to trust you.
That last day can be very tough.
You may feel a sense of loss head on, but you may also go through grief, anger, depression, sadness and a sense of being emotionally overwhelmed and drained. You may feel adrift, unable to focus, sense a rush of exhaustion flood through you. Deflation is common.
All of this can hit you at once, or it can seep into the days and weeks following the last day. You may start to wonder what’s going on and stress over having to be ready and emotionally available for the next character and story that’s waiting for you.
So how do we say goodbye?
How do we close these emotional ties that have lived, breathed, felt, feared, loved, hated, risked, killed, received wounds, forgived, triumphed, in us and through us for weeks or months on end?
- Recognize that you need to create closure. You do this by being aware of what it means to end the relationship with the character.
- Accept that you are going to feel a sense of loss. Allow yourself the emotions of missing a character, of not being part of their fabric 24/7 anymore.
- Find some time to be alone to formally say goodbye to your characters. Thank them for what they have blessed and burdened you with, for the experiences they have opened your life up to, for their trust in your artistic ability to embody and share their story with the world.
- Separate out the emotions that belong to them from the emotions that are truly your own. You’ve been in their head and heart for intense periods of time, it can be hard to decipher what actually belongs to you. But it’s essential to make the distinction.
- Let go of their journey. They have to live now without you. They have to go on being present in the world without your daily presence. Trust that you have given them everything they need to thrive.
- Rest. You may not have much time between projects, but you are spiritually exhausted. You need time to re-center, to ground yourself again in your own being. You need time to let go of the motions of work. Physical activities – even mundane household chores- can be therapeutic – as they bring you out of the creative emotive state and sink you back into earthy presence.
- Celebrate what you’ve achieved.It is something major in any artist’s life to bring a project to a full close. No matter what level of success you’ve had in the past, each project takes all of you and creates new spaces within your spirit for what will come in the future. Having completed a project is an end and a beginning and you need to honor your spirit for that. Don’t just toss it off as “what you do.” Take a moment and feel a sense of achievement, accomplishment. You have done this. You are living a creative life. This is why you’re here.
In our work, we delve into tough, tough emotions of characters and live and experience pain that often would never be ours in our private lives. We do this as part of sharing Story, of furthering our human existence through Story. And because it’s part of what we do in our everyday work, we may not take what that pain can do to us seriously enough. We need to be conscious of the boundaries, of what belongs to us emotionally and what doesn’t. We are not our characters, they are not us. Yet, we will always be part of our characters and they will forever be part of us. Part of the magic and wonder of this amazing creative work is that we allow them to change us, we make ourselves vulnerable to them and in return, they give us the stories that become the fabric of our creative lives.
Close your projects with a sense of wonder and thankfulness. Bless your characters as you say goodbye.
Because no matter what happens when the work is done, they’ve blessed you.
*Restoration: When former Iraq P.O.W. and seasoned special operative Kyle Sandberg faces being institutionalized because he refuses to speak, war-weary psychologist Alicia Meier takes him home to her family’s abandoned farm in North Dakota’s booming oil fields—only to discover that her house has been condemned and will be destroyed, unless she can repair it in time. Battling insurmountable odds, threats from anti-fracking environmentalists and a neighbor desperate to see her off her land, Alicia, her Iraq war vet brother Daniel, and Kyle fight to rebuild the house and their lives, while grappling with the ultimate question: how do you know what’s worth saving?
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