Lessons in Arbitrage

When I decided to go see a movie with my dad and he suggested “Arbitrage” I had no idea what he was talking about. Maybe I don’t watch enough commercials, or maybe this movie was aimed at a different demographic (is Richard Gere the Leo DiCaprio of my mother’s generation? Suffice it to say I was the youngest one in the theater by at least ten years), but he told me it was a drama about a high-powered money mogul and I agreed to go. (*Note: according to the fabulous Wikipedia, “in simple terms, [arbitrage] is the possibility of a risk-free profit at zero cost.”)

Gere’s character, Robert Miller, gets into some seriously tight spots (manslaughter; a financial “hole” of hundreds of millions in the company he’s trying to sell) and somehow this man gets out of everything. Miller’s adept navigation of his circumstances is due in no small part to his empire, the wealth and name he’s built for himself, and the intelligence that got him there.

I was listening to NPR and I heard a chat with the screenwriter, Nicholas Jarecki, on creating Miller’s character. This guy is all the things we’re supposed to hate, and yet. As you’re watching the movie, you can’t help but hope he figures a way out of the mess he’s gotten himself into. One of the ways Jarecki accomplishes this is building the character’s motivation from the outset.

My dad called Miller “evil,” but I don’t know. Not a nice guy, certainly, not someone I’d like to meet, but his motivation is strong enough that you can at least understand why he does what he does. As Gere put it in an interview with NPR aptly titled “Richard Gere On Playing A Jerk You Want To Root For,” “…when you spend time with even supposedly monsters, there’s a human being there. And in storytelling, you’ve got to find that human being.”

This is something I’ve been discovering in writing my novel. I started out trying to create characters you would hate, but I had to make them real. Human. I’m still working on this, and I’m learning from Jarecki and Gere and how they did “Arbitrage.”

I think I’m going to take my mentor’s advice and stick with this novel. Revise it. Again.

Image from nanoedmo.net.

Apparently there is not just a NaNoWriMo but a NaNoEdMo – that’s National Novel Editing Month. The official one takes place in March, but why not try for 50 hours in November? While my writers’ group members log their words, I might log my minutes…


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