Friday, May 10, 2013

Less Than Zero & More Than Anything

While on an awesome eleven-day road trip with hubby, where there was no cell signal or wifi for the majority of the getaway, we watched television only once during the entire time, during which I received a revealing lesson in characterization and the character growth arc.

Our TV time consisted of the 1987 movie Less Than Zero, featuring a brilliant performance by Robert Downey, Jr. as Julian. The synopsis for the movie is that the friendship of three affluent, nightclub-hopping Los Angeles youths is thrown into turmoil over Christmas break from college when one of them begins to spiral downwards from excessive cocaine abuse. (Please note, mild spoilers might exist below!)

In addition to phenomenal acting by Robert Downey, Jr., the movie presented an overview of what a writer might want to accomplish regarding character story arcs, which makes sense since the movie is based on a novel by Bret Easton Ellis. (Note, the plots of the movie and novel differ greatly.)

In the movie, Julian is a drug addict on self-destruct. In the process of his self-victimization and self-sabotage, he causes a great deal of hurt and harm to those around him.

The growth arcs of Julian's friend, Clay, is that he goes from an absentee friend to caring about and attempting to help Julian. Clay's romantic interest and Julian's enabler, Blair, goes from being a drug addict to giving up drugs and finding love with Clay.

Julian, however, is an out-of-control drug addict who will do anything for his next hit. His growth arc goes from in-it-for-fun drug addict to wanting to get clean and change his life, until the inevitable setback hits.

The characters go from being less than zero toward what they want more than anything during the duration of the movie. More than anything, these friends want to survive and for their friendship to survive, but as in real life . . . .

The story arc of Goal, Motivation and Conflict (GMC) includes:
  • Goal: What does the character want more than anything.
  • Motivation: Why do they want what they want (external and internal motivation).
  • Conflict: What prevents them from getting what they want (external and motivation).
For instance, Clay's GMC in the Less Than Zero movie includes:
  • Goal: To reconnect with Blair and Julian.
  • Motivation: Current life is empty, Romantic interest in Julian, Misses them, Loneliness, etc.
  • Conflict: Blair and Julian's drug use, drug scene, drug dealer, Julian's desperation, Frustration, Uncertainty, etc.
For Clay's Story Growth Arc, he goes from Disconnected Friend to Reluctant Enabler to Friend set on Intervention (Disconnected Friend > Reluctant Enabler > Interventionist Friend).

From less than zero to what we want more than anything -- awesome writerly and life lessons indeed.

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