The best stories are when the hero changes. Typically the hero changes from living a dead end life of his or her own creation and becomes a better person and gains a better life by changing. In tragedies, the hero fails to change in the end, but in most stories, the hero does change in the end and that creates the happy ending.
To define how a hero changes, start with the beginning and the end. In the beginning, your hero behaves one way and by the end, the hero has changed. In “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the hero begins the story believing his life has been wasted and feeling frustrated as a result. By the end, he realizes his life has been blessed with so many friendships that he’s happy with his life.
In “Star Wars,” Luke begins the story feeling unsure of himself to the point where he won’t even leave his uncle’s farm when given the chance by Obi-wan. By the end, Luke is far more certain of himself because he trusted the Force.
In “La La Land,” the hero is a struggling actress who doesn’t think she’s ever going to be successful. By the end, she is successful and a star.
Your hero must change drastically from the beginning to the end. If your hero has low self-esteem in the beginning, he or she must be strong in the end (“Rocky”). If your hero is a liar in the beginning, he or she must understand the importance of telling the truth in the end (“Liar Liar”).
Once you identify the dramatic change that your hero goes through in the beginning to the end, the next step is to change your hero. Heroes don’t change overnight but change gradually. This involves repetition to keep steering the hero in the right direction.
First, the hero needs to hear about the change. This usually occurs when another character tells the hero what he or she needs to do.
Second, the hero needs to see this change, usually demonstrated by a mentor. This shows the hero (and audience) what’s possible.
Third, the hero needs to learn and experience this change, usually demonstrated by a mentor again. This lets the hero actually feel what the change is like.
Fourth, the hero must finally apply this new knowledge to defeat the villain in the end.
The four stages of the hero’s change involve:
- Learning (experiencing)
In “Star Wars,” Obi-wan asks Luke to go with him and when Luke says he can’t, Obi-wan chides him for sounding like his uncle in being cautious. (Hearing)
Later, Luke gets to see Obi-wan use the Force to get past the storm troopers by telling them, “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.” (Seeing)
In the Millennium Falcon, Obi-wan lets Luke feel the Force by trying to block laser blasts blindfolded. (Learning)
Finally, Luke listens to Obi-wan’s voice to trust the Force and fire the photon torpedoes to blow up the Death Star. (Applying)
These four stages of the hero’s change makes for a believable transition from one type of person to a completely different person in the end. The only way this makes sense is by gradually changing the hero (and the audience) over time.