Plotting the Change in the Hero

Your hero needs to gradually change over the course of the story. In Act I, you must introduce the hero’s main problem. Then in Act III, you must solve your hero’s problem. Just by defining the beginning and end of your hero’s life, you can clearly define whether your hero has changed or not.

Once you know your hero starts out in a dead end life in Act I but gets a better life by the end of Act III, the next big question is filling in the gaps. People don’t magically change on their own but they can change gradually. By showing the audience how your hero changes gradually, you can make the final change in the end of Act III believable and impactful. This is the basic four-part story structure for defining your hero’s change:

  • Act I — Introduce your hero’s problem
  • Act IIa — Show the hero learning how to become a better person with the help of a mentor
  • Act IIb — Show the hero applying his or her skills to help an ally
  • Act III — Show the hero changing into a better person by defeating a villain with the lesson of a mentor

This is how the hero changes in “Legally Blonde”:

  • Act I — The hero doesn’t trust herself as a strong woman but thinks she needs a man
  • Act IIa — The hero learns how to adapt to the new world of law school
  • Act IIb — The hero helps her hairdresser friend get the attention of a cute UPS deliveryman by being a proactive woman, which is exactly what the hero needs to learn
  • Act III — The hero learns how to win her court case by trusting herself

In “Colossal,” the hero is an irresponsible party girl who discovers she actually controls a monster in South Korea. This is how she changes:

  • Act I — The hero drinks too much and doesn’t care how her actions negatively affect others
  • Act IIa — The hero learns to get a job and see the consequences of her drinking in hurting others
  • Act IIb — The hero tries to help a friend see how getting drunk can negatively affect others around them
  • Act III — The hero fights back against the villain by becoming a monster and taking action to help others

This is how hero changes in “Star Wars”:

  • Act I — The hero wants to live an exciting live but doesn’t trust himself
  • Act IIa — The hero learns about the Force that depends on trusting your feelings
  • Act IIb — The hero takes the initiative to free Princess Leia and shows Hans how to do something for others
  • Act III — The hero embraces the Force, trusts himself, and blows up the Death Star to save Princess Leia and the rebel base

Change occurs in two steps. First, teach the hero how to change. Second, show the hero teaching someone else how to change. In Act IIb when the hero tries helping others, he or she is actually helping themselves learn their own lesson in the process.

Defining change in your hero is a crucial element in telling an emotional story, l and stories that manipulate emotions will always be far more appealing than stories that just show lots of special effects and explosions.

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