Creating a Story with a Changing vs. Unchanging Hero

In most stories, the hero changes over time. In tragedies, the hero gets worse such as in “The Godfather” where the hero initially stays out of the family’s organized crime business until finally in the end, he becomes the new godfather and runs the family’s organized crime business.

In most stories with happy endings, the hero’s life gets better by the end. Changing heroes provide an emotional journey for the audience to follow.

However, there’s one case where the hero doesn’t change at all. Such an unchanging hero starts out as a good person and through their actions with others, helps change the lives of multiple people for the better. Some movies that feature unchanging heroes are:

  • “Forrest Gump”
  • “WALL-E”
  • “Little Miss Sunshine”
  • “Being There”

With a changing hero, the hero starts off as an oppressed or beaten person, and gradually transforms into a powerful person. With an unchanging hero, the hero is already good, but the multitude of people the hero meets are beaten down and hurt. Through interaction with the hero, these multiple people find a way to get a better life.

The key to the unchanging hero is that the hero must start as good and remain that way throughout the story. In “Forrest Gump” and “WALL-E,” the hero seems like a low-status person (or robot in “WALL-E”) while everyone else around them appears normal.

Yet the hero’s innocence helps others see the flaws in their own lives so they change for the better. If your story has an unchanging hero, then that hero must change the lives of multiple people.

In “Little Miss Sunshine,” the hero is a little girl who wants nothing more than to compete in a beauty pageant. Through her desire to compete, she changes the lives of the following people in her family:

  • Her father who learns that the world can’t be divided into winners and losers.
  • Her mother who realizes her family is important to her after all.
  • Her brother who had a dream of becoming a pilot but learns he’s color blind and won’t qualify to become a military pilot.
  • Her uncle who tried to commit suicide after a failed relationship with another man.

Because the hero doesn’t change, it’s crucial that an unchanging hero affects multiple people in drastic ways. This is how many people the hero in “WALL-E” changes:

  • Eve, who realizes how much the hero cared for her.
  • The starship captain who was bored with his routine duty but then gets curious about Earth and learns to stand on his own two feet to confront the villain.
  • A human couple who were looking for love and then find it through interacting with the hero.
  • An army of rogue robots who rebel against the villain. Through their interaction with the hero, they can escape being reprogrammed so they can help the hero fight the villain.

Unchanging heroes can be challenging to write since the story requires multiple other characters to change in drastic ways for the better. Yet unchanging heroes seem specific to the comedy genre so if you’re writing a comedy and find your story doesn’t work to have a hero who changes, try using a hero who doesn’t change instead. This simple switch might just make your story more interesting.

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