‘Lost in Translation’ and writing about a character’s introspection.

I have a special relationship with ‘Lost in Translation’, as when I watched it, I was going under some personal issues. I recall that I went with my parents to watch it (because no one else wanted to do it and my mom enjoys going to the cinema) and when it ended, as ‘Just like honey’ sounded along the rolling credits I told them: “that’s what Tokyo looks like… and that´s how I feel most of the time.” And they understood. Never a movie so far had explained better for me the level of isolation and need to connect that one can feel on a bad period of life.

As Roger Ebert put it:

“”‘Lost in Translation’” offers an experience in the exercise of empathy.”

It’s often decried that the movie is about nothing, or confused with a romantic comedy. I say no to the first assertion and might agree partially to the second one. ‘Lost in Translation’, in my opinion, is a character study between two people that feel isolated and find a kindred soul to share said isolation, through mutual understanding of their different circumstances. The movie is about both: personal introspection on the dual questions of ‘what am I doing with my life/what am I doing here?’ and the sense of isolation and impersonality created by a being in a foreign place or in a big city.

Anyone that has moved abroad to study or live could agree that the first months there feel like this until you manage to make human connections. An even then, the feeling truly never goes away. Regardless of what Bob told Charlotte in that famous final scene, both made a connection, both grew up as persons and both realized things about them that couldn’t figure it alone, but couldn’t figure it with a relative either. It was through breaking that wall of isolation that they found what was literally ‘Lost in Translation’ in their personal lives.

I was thinking about this movie recently, as I drafted a list of my 10 favorite movies, and recalling it made me think something we, as writers, tend to forget: character’s internal growth or introspection. Due to a variety of reasons, readers and writers –including myself- tend to skip the calmer moments of a story, in search of the next action beat. When I was showing to some friends the outline for the Tempest Blades sequel, one pointed that a chapter describing a training period could cut the flow of the action. But I’m planning to leave for now said chapter. I’m not interested in the training part per se, but in the connection between characters to make the protagonist look inside and realize some things he needs to solve inside his head and heart before moving to the next stage. The whole theme of the book is about that learning.

I have a particular fondness for that kind of bittersweet, slow stories because they offer a window to the soul of a character (or characters) and the kind of inner exploration we rarely give even to ourselves. We have grown accustomed to hectic lifestyles where we forgo the time to look inside and reach outside. And our characters reflect that.
Regardless of whether we add or not quieter, slower scenes of introspection –scenes that some readers can say are about nothing- to our action-packed or politically intriguing stories, we as writers can and have to do it. Even if it’s something that will remain in our notebooks, part of the hinted background of a character. Allowing ourselves to help our characters to go through this introspection, through this ‘exercise of empathy’, I believe, would allow us as writers to create more believable characters.

Characters that can react with a certain amount of believability to what we as might gods of fate throw at them. We write about actions but rarely dwell on consequences. The actions of our characters change the world –relative to scale and theme of course- but are also changed by them, for what’s life but constant change. In ‘Lost in Translation’, Bob and Charlotte are being changed by their current circumstances as well as their previous personal histories. The introspection they are subjected by the events depicted in the film force them to come to terms to what has traversed and move on to the next stage. Our characters, regardless of the genre we are writing (well, perhaps not in horror because odds are they will be dead by the end), need to go through the same process, even if it’s never to be depicted in the story and takes place only in our heads. But by doing it, we can write them better and thus, the story is improved.

We are not cardboard beings, nor should our characters be. Maybe that’s why is taking me so long to start writing the sequel because I need to figure out how much my characters have changed inside by the events of the first book in order to show where they are moving. I did this exercise for the main characters of my short stories ‘Asherah’s Pilgrimage’ and ‘No-sell’ (both to be published this year in different anthologies) and I think it improved them. At least made me understand better their motivations so I could try to portray them as needed. I hope I did achieve that. Because now I want to try that at a larger scale. I’m connecting with my characters in order to understand their particular isolation and thus understand what they are looking for, so the plot is better serviced by that.

‘Lost in Translation’ will always have a special place in my heart. And now I realize, in the list of influences I have.

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