Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Upside Down Transformational Arc

Anyone who knows me, knows I'm not the biggest Maas fan. I admire him for the tidbit I took away from his first craft book, "Writing the Breakout Novel", and I'd been avoiding his RWA lecture, because--I dunno. It seemed like everyone was on the bandwagon, and I don't like crowds.

But I was working my way down the list and finally got to the "special" lectures. I enjoyed the first ten minutes of "The Fire Within". It was a wonderful, pumped up go-get-'em tiger of an intro that made me want to break out a pen. Then it kind of petered out. I think...because it was person-specific and would work better in a book. Not everything translates to lecture-format. Especially if you're listening to it after the fact.

But then he said the one thing that caught my attention. It might have been a "throwaway" line, but it was a nuclear flash for me.

"People usually think of the hero's transformational arc as going up, but sometimes, it goes down", and I stopped.


He is so right. And never more so when it comes to certain types of stories. The upside down arc is the anti-hero's arc.

A good way to look at it would be to compare two movies like Good Will Hunting and The Bourne Identity. Both Matt Damon films. Put aside the fact that Jason Bourne is a killer, because that's not the part I'm talking about.

In the first movie--the Bourne Identity, Jason is a disenfranchised amnesiac killer who meets this woman named Marie (and I promised myself I wouldn't talk about the difference between the books and the movies, so I won't, lol) and over the course of the movie, he moves from considering her expendable to trusting her, to finally finding something inside himself willing to take that final step and reach out to her. It's a good example of an upward driving transformational arc.

Jason moves from point A, through positive steps--accepting Marie as a person, starting to trust her, wanting to protect her--to point B, where he's grown into the person he needs to be so they can have a life together.

In Good Will Hunting, Will starts at point A, down a long shallow slope of un-positive, really stupid and outright counter-productive behaviors. He pushes people away, destroys everyone's illusions and messes with people for the hell of it. He can't open up to the girl, and he doesn't want help to pull out of his downward spiral. Watching Will is so horrible it hurts. It's so unrelentingly bad. Down, down down, until he hits rock bottom, and only then, can he start the long crawl back. Transforming as he goes.

It's the same arc, only upside down. A reflection of all the bad things that a person can do to get to point B, instead of all the good things.

In some ways, it's like UNK's stages-of-grief downward arc, but this particular arc works for people with unreformed rakes and demons, uber-alphas with ptsd, disconnected loners and vampire/shifters. Anne Stuart does the downward arc. Probably why I have so many of her books. I love watching the hero get worse before he gets better.

1 comment:

epic said...

This is good. People make it too complicated.

If you have a down ending, you need an up beginning.

If you have an up ending, you need a down ending.

It's not the intensity of the emotions. It's the difference, the distance traveled, that makes it a journey. Make them climb a mountain or fall from a skycraper or ride a crazy goddamn roller coast, but make it GO somewhere.