In flat, boring movies, the hero stays the same from start to finish. Watch bad James Bond movies and James Bond is confident and on top of the world at the beginning and the end. Then watch better James Bond movies like “Skyfall” where James Bond is considered too old to stay in the service any more and his diminishing skills make him less capable. Now he had to grow and change as a person to prove to himself and the world that he’s still capable of being a secret agent.
Think of any good movie and the hero always changes both emotionally and physically. In “Avatar,” the hero starts off in a wheelchair (physical) and considered a poor substitute for his brother as nothing but a grunt Marine (emotional). By the end, the hero is walking in his avatar body for good (physical) and is a hero of the natives (emotional).
When your hero changes physically and emotionally, your story feels more complete. In most cases, the hero doesn’t change physically but emotionally. In “Rocky,” Rocky is still the same person, but he’s changed his physical surroundings so he has a girlfriend and he’s changed emotionally since the world no longer looks at him as a bum.
To define how your hero changes, you need to know your story’s theme. Without a theme, your story risks scattering its focus all over to the point where one part of your story doesn’t support another part. Such disjointed stories wind up feeling unsatisfying and dull. Your theme defines your hero’s ultimate direction. In “Thelma and Louise,” the basic theme is about women being second-class citizens in a man’s world. So at the beginning of the story, both Thelma and Louise represent that unhappy situation. By the end, both Thelma and Louise have learned that they can feel powerful and take control of their lives, even if it means driving off the edge of a cliff.
The question is how do you take your hero from one extreme to the other? You do that through the Mentor’s Lesson and a Moment of Realization.
Initially your hero is stuck in a dead end life. Then your hero learns a lesson from a Mentor that opens his eyes to a better way of life although the hero doesn’t fully embrace this lesson just yet. As things fall apart, your hero hits rock bottom and experiences a Moment of Realization when he or she realizes that their past life was a dead end and they can’t stay in that life any more. Then the hero learns to fight the villain by embracing the Mentor’s Lesson and defeating the villain as a result. So the basic change for the hero looks like this:
- Hero stuck in dead end life (Act I)
- Hero learns Mentor’s Lesson that offers hope (Act IIa)
- Hero hits rock bottom and experiences a Moment of Realization (Act IIb)
- Hero embraces the Mentor’s Lesson to defeat the villain (Act III)
Your hero can only change if you know your theme. Keep a strong theme in mind and that can guide your story from start to finish.