In too many bad movies, the hero is the only person who changes during the course of a story. In really bad movies, even the hero doesn’t change. If you want to grab an audience, not only should your hero change, but those around him (or her) as well.
To see how multiple characters can change in a story, watch the 2003 movie “Seabiscuit.” Unlike most movies that focus on a single hero, “Seabiscuit” almost seems to have multiple heroes and that helps gain sympathy for all of them. (Watch the trailer for “Seabiscuit” to see how multiple characters change.)
First, there’s Charles Howard, a bicycle repairman who opens a bicycle shop and winds up with no customers until a man drives up with a broken down car and asks him if he can fix it. Not only can he fix it, but he improves it and soon becomes a millionaire through building and selling cars. His problem is that his only son died in a car crash, which broke up his marriage and left him alone and despondent.
Second, there’s Tom Smith, an unorthodox horse trainer who sees progress in the form of cars and barbed wire fences, slowly cutting off his way of life. Tom is seen as a nut for saving the life of a horse and healing it despite everyone’s advice to shoot the horse and kill it. Tom’s challenge is to prove to the world that his way of training is right to care for the horse rather than just bully it.
Third, there’s Red the jockey, who has a skill racing horses, but is seen as too tall to be a jockey. Nevertheless, the manages to scrape by and shows a lot of spirit in fighting back.
Fourth, there’s Seabiscuit, the race horse that’s too small and considered a failure. With the help of everyone, Seabiscuit discovers how to be a winner, which turns Charles Howard into a winner with a new wife and a surrogate son in the form of Red the jockey. Tom Smith, the horse trainer is vindicated when Seabiscuit keeps winning races, and Red the jockey is vindicated by getting back up from a serious leg injury and winning a race on Seabiscuit once more.
Seabiscuit helps bring all of these three broken characters together and as a team, they make each other change, survive, and come out a winner at the end.
In your own story, look at which of your characters change. Your hero has to change to succeed at the end, but your secondary characters, typically your hero’s allies, must also change too.
If you consider Red the jockey as the main hero, he changes through helping Tom the horse trainer turn Seabiscuit, the losing race horse, into a winner so Charles Howard can own a winning race horse.
“Seabiscuit” is slightly different from most movies since it covers so many characters over a long span of time that each scene is extremely short and just gives a glimpse of the story before moving on, allowing you to piece together the different images to form the story in your own head. Study the scenes for how short and quick they appear and how they simply get a point across and end right away so there’s no sense of the movie ever dragging at any point.
“Seabiscuit” is a good movie to study to see how dramatically so many different characters change over time. That’s what makes a good story when characters change together in different variations, but they’re all underdogs and they all come out on top at the end.