Everything Changes

The basis for any story is change. At the very least, the hero must change and become someone better (or worse as in tragedies) than they were in the beginning. Most movies end on a happy note when the hero changes for the better, but tragedies end on a sad note when the hero fails to change.

If just the hero changes, you still risk creating a one-dimensional, flat storyline. That’s because the whole movie can’t focus on the hero the entire time. Since the hero rarely is alone the whole time, the major characters surrounding the hero must also change. The two main characters surrounding the hero are:

  • The mentor, who teaches the hero how to change
  • The ally, who helps the hero deal with the new world

Through the actions of the hero, the mentor changes and achieves some type of goal. Also through the actions of the hero, the ally changes for the better in a similar way to the hero. without changing the mentor or ally, a story risks becoming dull and flat. That’s because if the mentor and ally don’t change, they seem to exist solely to help the hero with no goals or emotions of their own. That creates one-dimensional characters, which creates a dull movie.

In “Star Wars,” Luke is the hero and longs for an adventure, Obi-wan is the mentor and seeks to redeem himself, and Hans is the ally who initially only wants money but learns to be motivated by something other than greed. Only Princess Leia remains essentially the same from start to finish, but she does have a goal of her own to help the rebels.

In a bad movie like “The 5th Wave,” the hero never really changes. She begins the story as a teenage girl and essentially remains the same person. Her mentor, a half alien-half human, has fallen in love with her and refuses to kill her like he was supposed to. His change occurs so early that there’s no emotional arc for his story, so he remains a flat, one-dimensional character. The hero’s ally is a boy from her high school who helps her find her younger brother. He begins the story with no goal of his own and only saves the hero’s younger brother for no other reason than because he’s a good guy.

“The 5th Wave” is so dull because there’s little change in the main characters from start to finish. They have no clear goals, their lives aren’t terrible in any way, and by the end, they haven’t changed in any meaningful way. The end result is an emotionally unsatisfying story.

So make sure not only your hero changes, but your mentor and ally change as well. Your ally needs to change in a way similar to the hero’s change. Sometimes the hero and mentor’s goal and change are nearly identical such as in “Legally Blonde” where the hero wants to find love and her ally (her hairdresser) also wants to find love.

Other times, the hero and ally’s goals aren’t identical, but when both are achieved, they help each other. In “The Incredibles,” the hero (Mr. Incredible) learns that he doesn’t have to work alone. In return, his ally (his wife, Elasti-Girl) learns not to force her family to be someone they really aren’t.

Change is vital for every main character. If you can make a minor character change as well, that’s even more emotionally satisfying. In “Deadpool,” there’s a taxi cab driver who Deadpool befriends as the cab driver takes him to Deadpool’s destination. During the ride, Deadpool tells the cab driver that love is important and to do what it takes to succeed in reaching his goals, which happens to be getting a girl that he fears he’s lost to a rival.

Later when Deadpool rides in that same taxi and chats with the cab driver, he learns that the cab driver has taken Deadpool’s advice to pursue his goal of winning a girl’s affections, and to achieve that, he’s kidnapped his main rival and hidden him in the trunk of the taxi cab. This minor change of the taxi cab driver going from feeling like he’s lost the girl he loves to getting the girl he loves by kidnapping his main rival shows that the cab driver has changed. It’s not exactly the type of change you expect, but that adds to the overall humor of “Deadpool” so it fits the storyline.

Even though this cab driver is a minor character in “Deadpool,” his change makes the overall story and the character’s appearance more memorable. If the cab driver had not changed at all, then his appearance would have seemed flatter and duller. By showing that the cab driver has changed in a humorous, yet gruesome way, we as the audience experience emotional satisfaction. That emotional closure is what every character’s change does for your overall story satisfaction from the audience’s point of view.

So make sure your major characters change and if possible, make your minor characters change too like in “Deadpool.” Change is part of every story. Without change, no story will feel satisfying. With change, every story can be more appealing in the end.

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