In 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.
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.
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.
- The character should show that he is capable of being the other character.
- The 180 should make sense within the structure of the story.
- 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.
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