Outlining a Story by Defining the Hero’s Fatal Flaw

Every hero has a fatal flaw. This fatal flaw is what the hero needs to overcome to become a better person by the end. Good movies always show the hero changing into a better person. Bad movies, like “The 355,” do not show the hero changing in any meaningful way, which is what makes them so bad despite loads of action, gunfire, and special effects.

Divide a screenplay into four equal acts and you can plot the hero’s change in each act:

  • Act I – The hero’s fatal flaw keeps the hero stuck in a dead end life.
  • Act IIa – The hero enters a new world where he/she learns how to overcome this fatal flaw.
  • Act IIb – The hero starts changing to overcome the original fatal flaw.
  • Act III – The hero finally changes for good to overcome this fatal flaw.

The movie “Freaky” demonstrates this four-step process in changing the hero. “Freaky” is about a high school girl who magically changes bodies with a serial killer. The four-step process in “Freaky” looks like this:

  • Act I – The hero’s bullied by other girls, by guys, and by a teacher. She’s stuck in this dead end life because of her fatal flaw in being weak and not standing up for herself.
  • Act IIa – The hero magically changes bodies with a serial killer. While in the serial killer’s body, the hero learns what it’s like to be strong.
  • Act IIb – Using the serial killer’s strength, the hero becomes more assertive and confident.
  • Act III – When switched back into her own body again, the hero must face the serial killer. Using her newfound confidence and inner strength, she kills the serial killer.

Omit a fatal flaw for the hero and you have no story at all. (Watch “The 355” to see this in action.) By focusing your story on introducing the hero’s fatal flaw and eventually overcoming it, you create the foundation for your entire screenplay.

Your hero’s fatal flaw is crucial to overcome because that’s the emotional foundation for your story. Any physical story filled with fights, explosions, and gunfire ultimately means nothing without an emotional foundation.

All those “Die Hard” sequels pale in comparison to the original “Die Hard” because the first “Die Hard” shows the hero changing from being arrogant (which caused his breakup with his wife) to finally admitting to himself that his arrogance was the reason his wife separated from him. Once he realizes his arrogance is to blame, he learns to be more caring and considerate to his wife, which helps bring them back together again.

Take your favorite movie and identify the hero’s fatal flaw and how the entire story revolves around the hero learning to overcome this fatal flaw and change into a better person. Then apply this knowledge to your own screenplay and you’ll be miles ahead of all those screenplays that simply emphasize action in lieu of any character change whatsoever.

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