The simple formula to create an emotionally charged story is this:
- Start with a flawed hero in the beginning
- End with the hero overcoming his or her flaw to become a better person in the end
Surprisingly, you can find plenty of mediocre movies that forget this and simply pile on the action and special effects instead (“Suicide Squad”, ” Transformers”, “Justice League”, “Flatliners”). the end result is always a disappointment. However, some mediocre movies try to force an emotional character change in the end but it doesn’t work because while they create change in the hero, it doesn’t feel real. In other words, the audience hasn’t changed along with the hero.
In “Thelma and Louise,” the audience learns and grows as the characters learn and grow. That experience helps make the change in the end believable and impactful because not only have the characters changed, but we as the audience has changed as well. To make the audience change along with the hero, it’s important to get the audience to bond with the hero. Even if we don’t like the hero, we still need to understand the hero.
In “The Godfather,” the hero begins as a man who wants to stay out of the family’s organized crime business, which we can all respect. however, he gradually changes into the godfather of the organized crime business. Even though this is a tragic example of change, we can identify with the hero’s decisions along the way and understand how he turns out, even if it’s against what we want to see happen.
The best way to bond the audience to the hero emotionally is to start by making the hero likable. This can occur in multiple ways:
- Make the hero a victim
- Show the hero helping others
When the hero is a victim, we can understand and sympathize with that hero such as the wheelchair-bound hero in “Avatar” or the struggling actress in “La La Land.” When we see the hero being nice to others, especially those less fortunate than the hero, we also feel an emotional bond to the hero such as in “Aladdin” when the hero risks his life to steal bread and when he finally escapes from men trying to kill him for stealing, he gives the bread to hungry children instead of eating it himself.
Once you know who your hero is, you automatically know who your villain, mentor, and ally is:
- The villain is the anti-hero, someone just like the hero but evil
- The mentor is the anti-villain, someone just like the villain but often sorry for a mistake in his or her past
- The ally has similar goals as the hero, but has special skills to help the hero in a new world
In “Legally Blonde,” the hero is a woman who wants to find true love, but doesn’t think she’s strong enough on her own. The villains all believe they’ve found true love and do think they’re strong enough on their own, but they’re not. This includes the hero’s boyfriend who dumps her and the hero’s law professor who uses his position to sleep with his students.
The hero’s mentor is a law professor who is nearly as powerful as the villain, but is caring and helpful to the hero because he likes her as a person, not as a sex object. Unlike many movies such as “Star Wars,” this mentor doesn’t have a past he regrets.
The ally is also searching for true love like the hero, and also doesn’t feel strong enough to stand on her own.
When a story creates major characters that are reflections of the hero, then the overall story will be much stronger. When a story creates major characters that don’t reflect the hero, then the overall story will be much weaker.
So once you know your hero’s flawed beginning and how he or she will change in the end, you need to create major characters that all reflect the hero. That will help create a coherent story that will amplify the emotional change in your hero by the end.