Every story is about a hero who changes. In rare cases, such as “Being There,” “Forest Gump,” and “WALL-E,” the hero remains largely the same from start to finish but their interaction with others drastically changes everyone around them for the better.
In most stories, the hero must change and that involves forcing your hero into an emotional dilemma from start to finish.
In “Hacksaw Ridge,” the hero refuses to touch a gun. Now the dilemma is whether he can be safe without a gun or will he live a better life without touching a gun?
This emotional dilemma creates the physical conflict in the story. First, the hero joins the army, but during basic training when he refuses to touch a gun, he’s forced into a dilemma. Should he take the easy way out and touch a gun? Or should he take the hard way with no guarantee of success and refuse to touch a gun?
By refusing to touch a gun, his problems get worse. He might be courtmartialed, and if he’s courtmartialed, he can’t marry his sweetheart. Finally, the army lets him finish basic training but they send him to a vicious battlefield (called Hacksaw Ridge) without a gun to protect himself.
Now the dilemma is can he live without a gun or should he take the easy way out and grab a gun?
In every great emotional story, the hero must constantly force this dilemma between the easy way out and the hard way out. The easy way out offers less conflict. The hard way out offers more conflict with no guarantee of success.
The easy way out is always the most tempting choice. By forcing your hero to constantly face this difficult decision, your story will always be interesting because such a dilemma creates interesting physical conflicts.
Watch any bad movie that focuses solely on physical conflict and you have a boring movie. Watch any great movie that has lots of action and chances are good, it also has a hidden emotional dilemma that’s driving the physical conflict.
Always focus on the emotional dilemma of your story. Once you know the only two choices your hero must face, keep forcing your hero to face this dilemma over and over again with increasingly dramatic stakes. That’s the secret to telling a great story.