The best stories challenge the hero to grow, but one major step to forcing a hero to grow is to force them to see who they really are. Often times, your hero doesn’t want to see who they really are, and that’s exactly what creates problems for that hero.
In “Die Hard,” John McClane sees himself as a tough guy, but only later when he’s wounded and his wife is held hostage by the villain does John McClane finally realize who he really is, which is an arrogant man. He finally recognizes his own arrogance and how it was the reason for breaking him up with his wife.
Take away this challenge to the hero’s greatest weakness and you have a much weaker story.
In “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris,” the hero is a cleaning woman who gets a large sum of money and decides she wants to buy an expensive dress. Her greatest emotional weakness is that even though she’s a cleaning lady, she doesn’t want others to see her as just a cleaning lady, yet that’s exactly what happens.
When a rich man becomes friends with Mrs. Harris, the story suggests that this rich man likes Mrs. Harris as a person, but it turns out that he likes he because she reminds him of a similar, low status woman who helped this rich man when he was a boy.
Although this might seem trivial, this realization that others still see her as nothing but a cleaning lady devastates Mrs. Harris, and that’s exactly the emotional weakness your hero must face.
Identify your hero’s greatest emotional weakness and force them to face it. That creates a much stronger story and makes us more emotionally involved in the hero’s plight.
Study bad movies and you’ll notice that the hero’s greatest emotional weakness is never revealed. Study great movies and you’ll find that the hero’s greatest emotional weakness is always exposed like a raw nerve, forcing the hero to face it.
Stories are really about emotions and change, not special effects, gunfire, explosions, or car crashes. Anyone can string together a bunch of mindless action like “Fast X”, but not everyone can create a compelling and sympathetic character like “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris.”
Before you write your screenplay, identify your hero’s greatest emotional weakness and force them to face it. Just this single act can make your story far more interesting than any special effects could ever do.