No hero can go through a story alone. At the very least, a hero needs a mentor who can teach the hero how to become a better person. In “The Karate Kid,” the hero learns karate and life lessons from his mentor, an apartment handyman who happens to be skilled in karate as well.
In most stories though, the hero needs the help of a mentor and an ally. An ally serves three purposes:
- The ally provides help in a new, unfamiliar world
- The ally has an emotional dream similar to the hero’s, allowing the hero to help the ally
- The ally returns in the end as a better person to help the hero defeat the villain
In “Star Wars,” Luke and Obi-wan can get to the spaceport using the Force to get past storm troopers, but they still need a pilot to fly them out off the planet. That’s why they need Hans Solo.
Hans is flawed in a similar way as Luke except that Hans only thinks about money and nothing else. After Hans flies Luke and Obi-wan off their planet, they all get captured by the Death Star. Now it’s Luke’s turn to help Hans by convincing him to rescue Princess Leia.
This scene serves two purposes. First, Luke shows he’s gradually changing and gaining more confidence in himself. Second, Luke’s selflessness lets Hans see how he could change eventually too.
Finally, Hans changes into a better person in the end. Initially he was going to take his reward money and fly away, but he returns at the last second to help protect Luke, showing he’s now a better person because of Luke. This allows Luke to blow up the Death Star.
Allies always help the hero initially. Then the hero helps the ally. Finally, the ally changes into a better person and helps the hero confront the villain.
In “Legally Blonde,” Elle leaps into a new, unfamiliar world of law school. After getting humiliated in her first class and finding her ex-boyfriend has a fiancé, she runs for emotional support to a beauty parlor where she meets her ally, a hairdresser.
This hairdresser makes Elle feel better and gives her direction to win her ex-boyfriend back. Now Elle turns around and uses her law skills to help the hairdresser get her dog back from her ex-boyfriend and also attract the attention of the UPS deliveryman who the hairdresser likes.
Finally, when Elle is in court, the hairdresser and her UPS deliveryman boyfriend now show up to give Elle emotional support.
If you want to know if your hero needs an ally or not, just ask yourself what help does your hero need early in the story? Whatever help your hero needs that the mentor cannot provide, that’s when you may need to introduce a new character as the ally.
Remember, some stories the hero has no ally like “The Karate Kid.” In others, the hero may have multiple allies like “WALL-E” or “Legally Blonde.” An ally exists only to help the hero and allow the hero to change by helping the ally in return.