NaNoReVisMo #3: the transformers are coming

Has everyone seen one of those kids' movies about a [soccer/baseball/hockey] team made up of clumsy misfits with mouth guards and runny noses whose [bitter/resentful/hard-ass] coach reluctantly (then enthusiastically at the key moment) leads them to victory over the [snobby/evil/orc-like] rival team the Blood Jaguars? It seems to INTERN that every one of those movies has the exact same scene at the end with everybody high-fiving and the runtiest kid and the reformed bully practically make love to other through six layers of scrappy, home-made uniform. Hollywood got the memo about character transformation, and they got it big time.

INTERN sees a lot of manuscripts (particularly YA) where the high-fiving, back-slapping scene is present, and the bully hugs the runt and the hard-ass coach finally tells his son he loves him and the prissy league official takes off her librarian wig to reveal ten feet of luscious blond hair...but there hasn't been any kind of build-up to account for these transformations. Like, none whatsoever.

It's like the writer was sitting there, drinking a martini and typing away happily, when all of a sudden somebody rang a bell and said "Simon says TRANSFORM CHARACTERS!"

Then the writer was like, "Oh sh**&$S*###!" and whipped out her Transformation Bazooka and started firing at will. Bam! Mean character becomes nice. Bam! Frumpy character becomes a sex god. Bam! Bitter character stares into the sunset for two seconds and has a life-changing revelation.

The reader is left in the rubble, surrounded by unrecognizable characters who have no apparent reason for their sudden transformations.

Just like you can stick your Conflict Toothpick into your manuscript, you should be able to stick in a Transformation Toothpick to make sure your characters are really having their worldviews challenged enough to account for change.

If we stick our toothpick into the first ten minutes of a Kids' Sports Movie, we see the bully terrorizing the runt. If we test again twenty minutes later, we see the bully witnessing the runt being terrorized again by his own father. Twenty minutes later, the runt helps the bully cheat on a test. When they get caught, the bully has to make a moral decision that might see one of them thrown off the team...and yadda yadda. At several points in the movie, the bully's view of the world is challenged, and a series of crises pushes him to the point of real transformation. Transformation doesn't just splash over him like a paintball hit.

Any of the following on their own are insufficient justification for Change:

-a character staring into sunset/sunrise/great whirling cosmos and spontaneously having a Deep Thought That Changes Everything.

-a character saying any variation upon "No, Sparky. This time we're going to kick *their* asses!"

-a character doing something out of character, then accounting for it by ways of a lengthy speech explaining how, exactly, he had a change of heart (if the transformation isn't justified by showing, no amount of telling will ever be convincing).


You don't win the Regional Team Sport Championships of the soul without breaking a few bones along the way.

Techie Boyfriend just made INTERN a cup of coffee with a shot of espresso in it, so she is off to go jitter somewhere stimulating. Hurrah!

Comments

  1. Transformer Bazooka? I gotta get me one of those!

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  2. "It's like the writer was sitting there, drinking a martini and typing away happily, when all of a sudden somebody rang a bell and said "Simon says TRANSFORM CHARACTERS!""

    Classic!

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  3. At least those misfit sports team movies aren't as foulmouthed as the original Bad News Bears. Can't get away with lines as politically incorrect as those. But ya know, the cruddy Aryan-looking kid got along with the Hispanic and black kids and *gasp* even a GIRL just in time to win the playoffs. Oh, wait, no they didn't...

    Sports movies are confusing.

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  4. I just reread an old article on just this. It said believable changes in characters come through four steps.

    First is preparation, as in showing Scrooge dancing in his youth. You give some clue that the hidden side of the character has been or could be there.

    Next there’s pressure to change, as in the ghosts visiting Scrooge, and finally there’s the moment of realization, and it’s best to downplay it. As in not gumming it up with a lot of words or explanation.

    Scrooge, for instance, doesn’t lecture himself, but hops up and buys a turkey. And in that you have the validation, in which the person acts on what they’ve learned.

    So yeah, another great piece. In fact, I can see it being quoted in a comedy: “And then it happened. Transformation splashed over me like a paintball hit.”

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  5. Simon says snort so effing loud that your bosses most definitely know that you stop working whenever a new INTERN post goes up.

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  6. oh, for a real life transformation bazooka...

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  7. This made me think of the "Stanley's Cup" episode in South Park. Even if you don't watch South Park, you should watch it, it's hilarious (it's on southparkx.net or Comedy Central's site, season 10).

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  8. Excellent points, INTERN. Character change is surely one of the most difficult things to pull off convincingly.

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  9. Intern, has anyone told you you should write a book? Probably. Seriously, put this in a book and we promise to make you a rich girl.

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  10. Great post. I have a couple of nasty characters who transform into nice guys a bit too easily.

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  11. The sad part is that those flawed and silly scenes are the ones that make the big bucks. Doesn't it occur to anybody that trite sells? Since you just described the plot of a zillion after-school/Disney movies, I guess not.

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  12. See anagnorisis and peripeteia for sources of transformation. Peripeteia without anagnorisis is like beer without malt.

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  13. Oh, so these books are just like when I first saw The Breakfast Club on t.v.* and had no idea it was edited, so I had no idea they all smoked pot together, and therefore never understood why they were all suddenly bonding so well...

    * That's WPIX channel 11 in NYC, and I love them for trying.

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  14. After reading through your post...my main reaction is...a slight pang of jealousy because your techie boyfriend is obviously amazing. Hmm...

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  15. I am suddenly reminded of Marvin the Paranoid Android gazing upon God's Final Message, and having a deep revelation before expiring.

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  16. Some of the transformation might take place in the way other characters (*and the reader) view the transforming character. You don't always have to change a character dramatically, but show aspects of the character that are being overlooked by others. You know, like in real life.

    in My Bodyguard, for instance, it's the bully that is being bullied at home. Isn't it?

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  17. In life, change is gradual. It's usually backed up by something called Motivation. But, since change is gradual, it's usually not remarkable. All that is seen is the ultimate change -- ala your post.
    If your posting is comedy, you have reached your goal. If serious...well...

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  18. This is hilarious. Please keep posting.

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  19. As always, I bow to your brilliance, INTERN!
    :)
    G.

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  20. I like that line where the author whips out the Transformation Bazooka and fires at will. LOL. Loved it! Can I borrow that?

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  21. to lknick: Yes, I think you're right about reality to a great extent. But Intern is talking about fiction, which, let's face it, is related to reality but not the same thing. A sheer scripting of the kind of mundane series of life events that gradually shift a person's perspective and, ultimately, behavior, would most likely be duller than dirt (although I'm sure Intern readers can think of some classics in literature that do this and actually pull it off). But for the rest of us, I think Intern is right on the money. You have to make the change believable by letting the reader in on some of the motivation and internal/external catalysts for the transformation.

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  22. By the way, this post earned you the title "Wittiest" on the First Novels Club blog. Thanks for always making us laugh!

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  23. Mel said...You have me smiling first thing on this dreary flu-riden morning. I thank Jan Fields for leading me here.

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  24. I loved this and have always believed those who do the REAL work are always underpaid and underappreciated. It doesn't look like that will change anytime soon in spite of the fact that I read that businesses are letting introverts take more leadership roles.

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  25. I love you. (I don't mean that creepily. I just mean that, as a dispenser of advice regarding everything writing-related, you are wonderful. And you say it in such a way that it goes straight home.)

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  26. Yeah, what Iqra said. I love you. I hope that I accidentally find INTERN's book once it's published and read it, because I like your style. :)

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