Multiple Character Changes

The worst stories occur when nobody changes. In mediocre stories, the hero may change but nobody else changes. In great stories, every main character changes somehow so if you want to write a great screenplay, find a way to make all your main characters change. The more characters you can make change, the stronger your story will be.

Watch “The Incredibles” and you’ll see that all the main characters change as follows:

  • Mr. Incredible learns that he can’t work alone
  • ElasticGirl learns that her family needs to stop hiding their superpowers
  • Violet learns to stop being shy around boys
  • Dash learns to use his superpowers constructively

Because everyone changes, the overall story is strong. However, in “The Incredibles 2,” notice that everyone changes and has a story to follow except Dash. Violet is learning to deal with rejection, Mr. Incredible is learning to be a dad, and ElasticGirl is learning to be the main breadwinner. Because Dash doesn’t change in “The Incredibles 2,” his role is much weaker and he exists mostly to support the other characters. If Dash could have changed as well, that might have made “The Incredibles 2” even stronger.

Watch any good movie and you’ll notice that multiple characters change. Typically, this is the way the major characters change:

  • The hero changes drastically by starting out as the opposite of the theme and then embracing the theme
  • The hero’s mentor changes through helping the hero
  • The hero’s ally changes by helping the hero and through the hero helping him or her

In “Coco,” the hero changes from thinking he has to leave his family to pursue his music dreams to embracing his family and using his music to bring his family closer together. His mentor, a dead relative, changes by being treated as an unknown to being honored and respected by his family. The hero’s ally, his family, changes by fighting against music and then embracing it when it brings everyone closer together.

Change is important in any story because without it, the story is stagnant. Imagine a story where nothing changes. That’s like a car without wheels. The definition of a story implies change. A story tells us what happened from start to finish, so there must be change of some kind. Changes must be both physical and emotional. The physical change alters the character’s world. In “Coco,” the hero goes from playing music in secret to playing music in front of his family.

However, emotional change is far more important than physical change. In emotional change makes the character see the world in a different way. In “Coco,” the hero learns that his family is far more important than pursuing selfish dreams.

Take any action thriller and add an emotional change and you’ve got a far more interesting story than just physical change alone. “Rocky” is inspiring because it’s about a hero proving to the world that he’s not a bum. The physical action of fighting is simply a means to this emotional goal.

Where many action thrillers fails is when they focus solely on physical change with no emotional change whatsoever. Watch any bad movie like “Terminator Genesys” to see what happens when a movie focuses only on physical action at the expense of emotional change.

When writing your screenplay, define the emotional change your hero undergoes first. Then make sure the physical change forces the emotional change in the hero. That alone will go a long way towards helping you write a stronger screenplay and tell a more compelling story.

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