Showing the Change in the Hero

Every story its about the hero changing to become a better person. The key is making sure the audience sees and understands that change as well. Typically, the first half of the movie is about the hero acting selfishly. Then the second half of the movie is about the hero changing and acting selflessly.

In “The Dallas Buyer’s Club,” the hero begins as a rodeo cowboy who discovers he has HIV, which he associates as a gay disease, and he dislikes homosexuals. Yet when others discover he has HIV, they treat him as if he’s a homosexual even though he’s not. Gradually he starts making money selling drugs to HIV patients but the scene that highlight his shift in attitude occurs when he’s in a supermarket with a transgender friend and runs into an old friend who shared his distaste for homosexuals.

When the hero refuses to shake hands with the hero’s transgender friend, the hero puts the other man in a headlock until he shakes hands with his transgender friend. That simple action shows how the hero has changed. For a scene to demonstrate change, the hero must take action that not only demonstrates new behavior, but also involves risk. By defying that risk, the hero shows that he or she has changed.

In “Star Wars,” Luke has been mostly timid and a follower for the first half of the movie. When he discovers Princess Leia is imprisoned on the Death Star and scheduled to be executed, he suddenly demonstrates initiative by deciding to rescue her. By leaving the safety of the guard station, Luke is taking a risk.

More importantly, the hero must not only change and take a risk, but must also confront a ghost of his old self to overcome.

In “The Dallas Buyer’s Club” supermarket scene, the hero took the risk of alienating his old friend by embracing his transgender friend. By confronting the homophobic attitude of his old friend, the hero triumphs and demonstrates how he has changed.

In “Star Wars,” Luke wants to save Princess Leia but Hans Solo wants to stay in the safety of the guard station. Hans represents Luke’s old type of behavior, being fearful of taking action. Luke overcomes Hans’ reluctance by convincing him there’s a huge reward for rescuing Princess Leia, which also shows Luke has overcome his own timid behavior as well.

So the key to showing change in your hero is:

  • Make the hero take a risk
  • Make the hero confront and triumph over someone who represents he or her old way of life

Change is crucial so your hero must gradually change from selfish to selfless. Without change, you don’t have a story at all.

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