Feb 21, 2008


A couple of months ago I wrote a post about a conversation among telenovela writers Delia Fiallo and Leonardo Padrón. The context of this exchange was Padrón's radio program Los Imposibles, broadcast in Venezuela by Onda.

I'm particularly interested in conversations among telenovela writers because they illuminate the difficult craft of writing these stories that can hijack the lives of its authors. Today I bring another conversation among telenovela writers that took place in the first season of Los Imposibles. This time Leonardo Padrón talks with Colombian author Fernando Gaitán (Café con Aroma de Mujer, Yo Soy Betty, la Fea, Hasta que la Plata nos Separe, etc.)

Here is the "postcard" that Padrón wrote for Fernando Gaitán: (If you understand Spanish and prefer to listen to it, click here)

José Ignacio Cabrujas said it once: "Latinoamérica invented telenovelas". It can't be further denied, telenovelas are one of the main non traditional exports from Latin America. Intellectuals around the globe rack their brains trying to understand how come telenovelas seduce millions of people in every latitude of our planet. Today there are telenovelas for every possible taste. But, there are some that garner collective applause and earn a standing ovation. This is what has happened with a good portion of the stories written by Colombian Fernando Gaitán. It could take us a long time to read his resumé. But, really one of its lines is sufficient. Fernando Gaitán is the author of Betty, la Fea. Enough said. Betty, la fea was the twist the genre needed. Gaitán was the genious who drove his car the wrong way, who moved counter current. In an industry where the female protagonist MUST be beautiful, he placed his bet on a woman with thick eyeglasses, childish bangs and braces. And he discovered the evident. Today we're in front of Fernando Gaitán. We will explore the labyrinth of a writer that is impossible not to mention when we underscore one of the best moments in telenovela history. We're about to enter the secret world of one of the best writers of love stories in Latin America. Welcome, Fernando.

The interview is too long to report it here. It's really interesting and has no boring moments. Following are a few fragments that illustrate the difficult job of writing a telenovela:

People always want to know what is the methodology used by telenovela writers. What is your methodology?
Well...it's a disaster. I could be one of the best telenovela writers, but I'm the worst regarding methodology. Generally, as we say here in Colombia, I work with a gun pointed to my head.

There are writers that have great methodologies. They are organized and have the flight plan for the whole story before they even start writing. But, there are others who discover the story as they write. Which is your method?
I've always said that the telenovela is an imperfect genre that we perfect as we go. When we write a telenovela that is on the air, we make a pact with spectators. We ask, "what do you want?" and tell them "let me tell you the story I have", and we agree in the characters.

So, it's like playing a four hand piece in the piano. You write with the spectator, no?
Telenovelas are the last arrogant act one can commit. It's a popular genre that always finds twists and variants on its way. New characters and situations may arise, but we never veer too much from the flight map.

Why have you never dealt with the harshest aspects of Colombian reality, like the drug traffic, guerrilla, and the paramilitary? Have you ever been tempted by those topics?
Yes, of course, and I believe every writer is under the obligation of dealing with them, sooner or later. In my case I feel that my mission, as a Colombian writer, is to keep showing the other facets of Colombians. Who we are and what we live.

The full interview can be read in the book Los Imposibles: Conversaciones al Borde de un Micrófono (Padrón, 2006). It's a marvel to witness the conversation between two writers who know the genre's codes so well that they can transgress them successfully.

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