The Emotional Journey

Strip away the emotional change in a hero and you wind up with a story heavy on action but empty of feeling, and that’s the recipe for a boring movie. Every great story starts with an emotional journey and that emotional journey must drive the entire story where the action simply makes achieving that emotional journey harder.

Watch any of the bad “Star Wars” prequels and you’ll see that they simply flood the story with action but leave the story empty of emotion. Then watch the original “Star Wars” trilogy and you’ll see that the characters change emotionally. Even with less action, the original “Star Wars” trilogy is far more engaging than the awful prequels.

The key to making en emotional journey is to think in opposites. Identify where you want your hero to wind up in the end. Once you know how your hero winds up in the end, you automatically know that your hero must be in the opposite state in the beginning.

In “A Star is Born,” the hero ends up a star, so that means in the beginning she must start out as nothing more than an aspiring musician, stuck in a dead end job where she’s treated like garbage. The greater the contrast between the hero at the end compared tis the beginning, the greater the emotional change and feeling.

If the hero in “A Star is Born” was treated well and on the verge of stardom in the beginning, then her eventual achievement in the end as a star wouldn’t feel that dramatic. Thus the ending and the beginnings must be complete opposites of each other.

Now the hero must gradually change from completely opposite his or her goal to finally achieving his or her goal. Act I (the first 30 minutes) starts with the hero in a dead end world and ends with the hero seeing a path to achieving his or her goal. 

In “A Star is Born,” the hero goes from singing in a drag queen bar to becoming friends with a popular musician who encourages her.

Act IIa (the next 30 minutes) starts with the hero pursuing a path to success, facing a major obstacle that threatens this path, but finally achieving a major milestone. 

In “A Star is Born,” the hero gains confidence in her singing and songwriting until her mentor (the popular musician), drags her out on stage to make her  sing a duet. Then Act IIa concludes when the hero sings her own song at the end of a show and she does it alone.

Act IIb (the next 30 minutes) highlights the problems the hero faces despite success. This is the point where the eventual goal is in doubt. 

In “A Star is Born,” the hero is getting popular and working on an album, not just a single song. Yet her relationship with her husband, the once popular musician, is in trouble because her husband is relying more on drugs and alcohol and fading from the spotlight. 

Act III (the last 30 minutes) shows the hero confronting the the final obstacle in becoming a star. In “A Star is Born,” this involves overcoming her husband’s death and finally being forced to stand alone as a star, which was her goal all along. 

The emotional journey involves having a goal and constantly being blocked, putting the achievement of that goal in doubt. In Act IIa, the hero’s life moves in a positive direction. In Act IIb, the hero’s life starts moving in a negative direction. 

In “A Star is Born,” the four emotional points in the hero’s journey look like this:

  • Act I – Dead end life as an aspiring musician.
  • Act IIa – Gets a taste of stardom by performing on stage with her boyfriend and finally on her own.
  • Act IIb – Becomes a star but has to struggle with her husband’s addiction that threatens her own career.
  • Act III – Finally becomes a star on her own after her husband’s death.

In your own screenplay, plot out your hero’s emotional journey first before you worry about physical and visually interesting action because all that physical and interesting action means nothing if you don’t have a compelling emotional story behind it. (Just watch a bad movie like “The Spy Who Dumped Me”) to see the problem with relying on action and ignoring an emotional story.)

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