Defining the Emotional Change in the Hero

Every story changes the hero. In the beginning, the hero starts out as one type of person in their own self-created dead-end world. By the end of the story, they’ve changed for better (happy endings) or worse (tragedies).

All change comes through emotional change, which is why more action, special effects, and car crashes are never the answer. Here are two ways the hero can change:

  • Embrace a new mindset
  • Admit a character flaw

The key to the hero’s emotional change is similar to an addict’s eventual change. At first, the addict is in denial and blames everyone and everything else for their problems. Finally, the addict (hero) must realize that they are the source of their own problem.

In “Star Wars,” Luke lacks confidence. Gradually he learns about the Force. However, embracing a new mindset is never easy because that requires giving up the old mindset with no guarantee that the new mindset will work.

That moment occurs when Luke turns off his tracking computer and trusts the Force completely, even while the commanders at the base questions if everything is all right. Not only Luke must trust the Force with no second chance if he’s wrong, but he must also deal with others wondering why he turned off his tracking computer.

For the hero to fully embrace a new mindset, he or she must risk everything and have everything working against them.

A far more interesting emotional change occurs when the hero admits that they are the fault of their own problems. In “Die Hard,” John McClane finally admits to Officer Powell that he was the one who broke up his marriage.

In an interesting movie called “All Square,” a neighborhood bookie blames his life on everything but himself. Finally, he admits that he was once a professional baseball player but quit when his dad ran over someone and he came back to take care of him.

Only later does this hero finally admit his character flaw. He was a pitcher in the minor leagues and found it harder than he thought. Rather than keep struggling to get better, he actually gave up and used his dad as an excuse to quit baseball and run his dad’s bookie operation.

The hero’s emotional change follows this outline:

  • Hero stuck in a dead end life due to their own character flaw.
  • Hero given an opportunity (a Symbol of Hope) that offers a chance for change.
  • Given a choice between changing or not changing, the hero starts changing and gets success.
  • Because the hero hasn’t fully changed, he or she starts experiencing adversity.
  • The hero must lose something and realize he or she must change.
  • The hero finally admits his character flaw and takes responsibility.
  • The hero takes a huge chance to change, and achieves a better life.

In “Star Wars,” Luke doesn’t really have much of a character flaw other than lacking confidence in himself. However in “All Square”, “Die Hard”, and many other great movies, the hero finally admits their character flaw. This is similar to how addicts can only start to change by admitting they’re an addict.

This is how the hero changes in “All Square”:

  • The hero is barely making money running a bookie operation.
  • He meets a 12-year old Little League pitcher and teaches him how to pitch.
  • When this 12-year old starts doing well, the hero realizes he can get people to bet on Little League games, which brings in massive amounts of money.
  • The hero’s bookie operation on Little League games is causing parents to lose money and take it out on their kids. The Little League commissioner threatens the hero to stop his bookie operation or the police will get involved.
  • The 12-year old kid sees how gambling is hurting other kids and wants the hero to stop taking bets. When the hero refuses, the 12-year old kid loses a game to make the hero lose a lot of money.
  • The hero finally admits to the 12-year old that he didn’t quit professional baseball because of his dad, but because it was too hard and taking over his dad’s bookie operation was easier.
  • The hero goes to beat up a man who caught the 12-year old kid breaking into his home and beat him up. Then the hero decides not to fight this man and risk going to jail.
  • The hero gives up his bookie operation and gets a real job. Then he pays back his debts to others to show he’s changed. However, he leaves open the possibility of still taking bets on professional sports games, but he has changed into a better man who has finally taken responsibility for his life.

The main way heroes change is to start out selfish and gradually become selfless as they start caring about others rather than just themselves.

Before plotting an intricate story, start by plotting your hero’s emotional change first. Once you know how your hero must change emotionally, then you can better shape the physical events to force your hero to constantly struggle between their old ways of life or a new way of life.

All emotional change is a dilemma between two choices. Either Luke lacks confidence in himself or he trusts the Force. Either the hero in “All Square” takes responsibility for his actions and how it hurts others, or he doesn’t.

A compelling log line may grab the attention of Hollywood, but a compelling log line plus a solid emotional change outline will help create a great story.

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