Tuesday, April 2, 2013

B is for Broken Characters: An Example of How to do it Right #challenge #atozchallenge

I'm a huge Joseph Gordon-Levitt fan. I grew up watching him grow up. 

Awe, he was so cute in his Dark Shadows days.
(Dark Shadows being the TV remake in the 90s, 
not the abomination of a movie that doesn't 
exist in my world).
Those from my generation may remember him from 3rd Rock From the Sun. More recently he's stared in such films a 500 Days of Summer, Inception and The Dark Night Rises.

Yeah, he totally grew up nice.
It's actually one of his lesser known films that is hands down his best role. The Lookout, and his character Chris are what I'm going to be talking about.

The trailer:

About this film and Chris: 
  • Rated R
  • Genre: Crime/Drama/Thriller
  • Running Time: 99 min
  • Released in 2007
  • Stars a crap ton of famous people
Chris was a big shot, hockey player in high school. He had the family money, the promising sports career, the hot girlfriend and all the popularity. Then comes prom night. He gets a little cocky showing off for his friends and boom! 

A nasty car wreck kills his friends, mutilates his girlfriend and frags his brain. Hockey, girlfriend, popularity, even college are all gone. He can't even stand being around his family because his dad won't stop talking about what used to be and reminding him of all he lost.

Because of his brain injury, Chris has trouble remembering things. He has to write things down in a note pad, and can't even get through telling the events of a single day. Through his therapy, he gets partnered up with Lewis (played by Jeff Daniels) who becomes his blind roommate, mentor and best friend.

Chris has a job cleaning a bank, which is about the only thing he can do because of his brain damage. He really wants to be a teller, but because of his disability, it's not happening.   

Along comes Gary. Gary was three years ahead of Chris in high school, but that didn't keep him from knowing exactly who Chris was and how promising this kids life was. Gary is now a bank robber, and he sees a BIG opportunity. The bank Chris works for is small, has no regular guard on duty, and basically it's Chris alone there at night.

Gary slides in with his gang, including Luvlee (played by Isla Fisher) and suddenly Chris has new friends and even a girlfriend. What do his new best friends want? They want him to let them into the bank and be the lookout while they rob it. In exchange, he gets friends, he gets the hot chick and he gets the money.

There's a whole, "whoever has the money has the power" exchange in the trailer that really spells it out beautifully.

Where The Character Really Shines (and a little bit of spoilage here, though I'll try to keep it to a minimum because I highly recommend this film):

As you can tell by the trailer, not all goes according to plan. At the last minute, Chris realizes that he's not the kind of person to rob a bank or to turn his back on the few people that have been there for him since the accident. By then it's too late. Gary and his gang are already there and won't let Chris out of the deal. 

People end up dead, Chris ends up looking like the fall guy, but the one thing nobody counted on was Chris getting the money that was stolen. 

Gary kidnaps Lewis in order to force Chris to give him the money. Chris may have brain damage, but he isn't an idiot. He knows both Lewis and him are dead unless he does something.

It is absolutely breathtaking how this character rises to the challenge. Just a reminder, in his day to day life, he has to write down whether or not he took a shower that day and which way to tie his shoes because his brain scrambles everything. Now, Chris has to come up with and correctly execute a plan to save Lewis, save himself, get the bad guys and return the money to the bank. 

I will say no more on how this plays out except that it's effing brilliant. And maybe go back and watch the tail end of the trailer again because that scene gives me chills every time. That scene is the climax of everything Chris has been fighting for since the wreck that ruined his life. It's awesome.

What This Teaches Us:

I'm going to pick on Twilight for a minute here. One, because it's a good example. Two, because it's Twilight

Some authors want us to believe that a character who is broken is love sick teenager staring out her window for months on end because her sexually androgynous boyfriend moved away. Or even a girl who got raped and left for dead by the popular guy, and then gets to come back as a vampire and totally own his ass. 

No. A good broken character is one who could have had it all and one, stupid, shitty thing happened to destroy that. Chris is the perfect example of a broken character. 

What makes these broken characters good, and what makes an audience hold out for them, is their ability to do the impossible. As an audience- whether film, book or other media -we love to see how a character who is so much more effed than we are rises to do so very much more than we can.  

If you're going to try to create a broken character, you need to remember that. 

Ask Yourself These Questions:
  1. What did my character have going for him?
  2. How did he lose it?
  3. Can he get it back? (If the answer to this one is yes, YOU FAIL. Go back to the drawing board.)
  4. What can he gain instead?
  5. How can he gain it?
  6. What has to happen to force him on the path to gaining this new thing? (If he can just wake up one day and chose to go on this path, YOU FAIL. Go back to the drawing board.)
As a Last Piece of Advice:

Remember, if you love your characters, you will torture the ever living crap out of them. It's the only way they can grow.


If you're a new follower, please let me know so I can follow your blog back. Please either use the commentluv feature or leave me a link to your blog. Not all methods of commenting necessarily leave me a way to get to your blog, and do like to check out your work. 

A Few Random AtoZ Blogs:

Because the AtoZ participants list is so massive, I don't include it here. However, I would like to give some love to my fellow bloggers, so I thought I'd pick a couple of random blogs to link to that y'all can check out at your discretion. 

  • Metamorphosis - Where cacoons of ideas transform into moths of fulfilment 
  • Buttontaper Press- Home of indie author Laura Roberts and literature that presses buttons

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