Posted by: Jodi | July 23, 2014

Leave the 180s For Thrill Seekers

PRO180_0In skateboarding and other sports when someone jumps and turns in the air so that the opposite foot is forward, it is called a 180.  It’s a fun stunt and looks cool.  A 180, meaning 180 degrees, comes from the degrees of a compass.  A full circle is 360 degrees.  The term 180 is also used for when someone changes their mind to the complete opposite of what they had believed or thought before.

In books and movies when a character does a complete change, generally from good to bad, this is called a 180 or a heel turn.  When done right it comes as an exciting development in the story, which is always a good thing. When done wrong it blindsides the audience leaving them confused and betrayed.

By now everyone is more than familiar with the movie Frozen. If you aren’t what rock have you been hiding under?  [Warning, spoilers ahead!]  This movie has been a smash hit ever since it was released and is the 6th highest grossing movie of all time. Even as a runaway success it’s not without problems, namely – the complete heel turn of Hans.

Hans spends most of the movie infatuated with Anna and does everything in his power to help her as her older sister Elsa freezes the world with her magic powers.  He’s adorable, brave, and proves that he can take care of the kingdom while Anna sorts out Elsa.  He shocks the audience when Anna returns from the mountain needing an act of true love to save her life and instead of giving her true love’s first kiss, he leaves her to die.

 

Good Hans

Good Hans

Bad Hans

Bad Hans

This is a great example of a 180 gone wrong.  We had no clue of his dark intentions up until this moment and it doesn’t  fit with his character. There were no hints along the way, no foreshadowing, nothing. It made the story feel disjointed and made everyone hate Hans, and not in a good way. Those who like dissecting Disney films will tell you it’s because there was a last-minute story change during production.

In the original story Hans is truly in love with Anna and there is even a wedding with a whole song and dance number.  In the end he is forced to kill Elsa to save the realm, as a mercy.  This turned Elsa into the enemy and didn’t resonate well with test audiences. The story of the two sisters relationship worked better if Elsa wasn’t the villain, which meant that they needed someone new to play the part.  Poor Hans’ character had to be sacrificed to make this new story line work.

the freemason

Last night I watched The Freemason, an Indie murder mystery film starring Sean Astin.  It had the same problem.  The good guy plays the good guy all through the movie and then minutes before the end we see that he is in fact a homicidal maniac bent on becoming rich and powerful.  As a murder mystery there needs to be suspicion cast over several characters to keep the audience guessing.  We spent the movie trying to put together the clues, which were sparse, only to be blindsided by someone who had no apparent motive.

Had there been a few clues along the way, talk of him being unsatisfied with his financial situation, scenes of him struggling to make ends meet, a marked distaste for those who had power and wealth, a hint that perhaps he knows more than he should, anything, then I might have bought it.  Because it didn’t, I finished the movie feeling a bit cheated.

Should you choose to include a 180 with one of your characters it needs to follow a few rules.

  1. The character should show that he is capable of  being the other character.
  2. The 180 should make sense within the structure of the story.
  3. If the 180 is caused because the story had a problem that needed to be fixed, during editing new elements must be added into earlier scenes that give clues that this character isn’t what they seem.

If you choose to use a 180 with your characters, be sure to do it right.  Surprising your readers with complete character changes is never a good idea, unless you’ve set them up first.  Then they are great.

Happy Writing!

***

Starting with this post I’m offering something new! Once a month I will give away a free critique of the first 20 pages of a novel in progress or a query letter.  All you have to do is “like” this post for one entry into the raffle.  For a second entry, leave a comment.  It’s that easy. Comments and likes from this post will count toward the raffle to be held the end of August.

 

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Responses

  1. It’s funny you posted this. I ran into this problem with one of my characters last week when I was 3/4 the way through my 3rd draft. Looks like I’ll be making a 4th draft before it’s all said and done!

    (And don’t enter me into the raffle thing–I don’t have anything completed to show you–and probably won’t for a long while–so I’m’a just gonna withdraw and better the odds for someone else that could actually use the opportunity. 🙂 )

    • Hi Cat! Haven’t heard from you in a while. I’m excited to hear that you are so far along in your editing and revisions. Don’t change anything just because I said so, do it only if will make the story better for you. Hope that you are well!

      • Oh, I’ve been around, I just don’t comment if I don’t have anything useful to say–or if I’m too tired to say anything! But your post today really just confirmed what I was already thinking, so I thank you for that.

  2. Ha ha, yeah, my reaction to his change was, “Huh?” I accepted it because it was otherwise a wonderful film and he was my second choice for her anyway. Still, you’re right, there was no hint, no foreshadowing, no anything. His seizing control made me uneasy, but I saw nothing to indicate he was looking to abuse his temporary power. For a change that dramatic I’d want several clues so that at the end I’d say, “Oh, I should have seen that coming!” I’d then think back and recognize all the clues. Now, THAT’S rewarding.

    • The first time I saw the movie his change really surprised me, but I couldn’t pinpoint why. It wasn’t until after repeated watching that I realized why it didn’t work as well as it could have.

  3. I didn’t see Frozen! I’m one of them weirdos.

    I don’t mind a good guy-to-bad guy switch up if it involves a secret identity being revealed, but if the motivation comes from nowhere…

    • Gasp! Where have you been for the past year? We didn’t see it until it had been out for several months, and then it was because we gave it to my daughter for her birthday. If it wasn’t for her and my youngest
      I might not have seen it either.

  4. I enjoyed the analogy. Thanks for the info. Great idea for a free critique. Only enter me if you’re willing to do a rain check.

    • Ah, come on Barbara! You’ve got lots of great stuff that I could take a look at. I promise to be nice. 🙂

  5. Great post. I agree.


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