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Every great story in history has always been about the changes that the hero has to undergo, in order to become a better person. For example: Lizzy Bennet in Pride and Prejudice has to learn to let go of her prejudice towards Mr. Darcy by getting to know him; Louis de Pointe du Lac in Interview with the Vampire has to learn to accept his vampire existence by observing and interacting with other vampires; Harry Potter in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone has to learn to stand up for himself by facing his enemies.
WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?
A flawless, perfect character is a boring character. We want a completely flawed character who falls and fails at every new thing they try, and then they get back up and learn from their failures. It’s only through the failures that the hero can rise victorious, as a new, better character.
That’s what makes a story that gets retold, reread, and adapted into film. (If you need story ideas to get your character creation started, go here.)
LET’S LOOK AT MOVIE EXAMPLES:
Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: A New Hope starts off as a kid on Tattooine who can only dream about exploring the galaxy. He’s clueless and unable to help his mates when adventure comes along. However, by the end of the movie, he is determined and brave, and actually saves the galaxy using his skills and talents.
Sarah Connor in The Terminator starts off as a weak, young lady. She literally has a protector around her, sent from the future. By the end of the movie, she is strong-willed, determined to live, and fights for her life, starting her journey to become the heroic mother that John Connor remembers her as.
Phil in Jexi, starts off as a quiet nobody. His only friend is his phone. And at work, as much as he wants a job promotion, he does the same boring thing everyday. By the end of the movie, he has a circle of friends, a girlfriend, and he obtains his dream job.
HOW TO TEACH YOUR CHARACTER THEIR LESSON:
In order to write such great movies or novels, you must teach the hero a lesson. Here are seven things you need to do in order for your character to become the person they’re meant to be:
|Think about the overall lesson your character must learn|
|Remove your character from their comfort zone|
|Consider your character’s weaknesses and strengths|
|Who are the secondary characters?|
|Think about the opportunities that will help your character learn their lesson|
|Play with the ending of your story|
|Write your beginning|
- Think about the overall lesson your character must learn, from page one to the end.
Here are some questions to consider: Do you want them to learn that they need romantic love or friendships? To learn that they need to be less stubborn or prideful? To accept that their family or friends are not good for them and they need to start working on bettering themselves without these people? To start caring about other people if they want others to start caring about them in return?
If you’re unsure of what lesson you’d want your character to learn, use yourself as an example. What life lessons have you had to learn so far? Take one of those and place it on your character.
- Remove your character from their comfort zone
If you use a 3-act structure to plot your novel, you’ll see that act one is your character in their status quo world–this is their comfort zone
In act two, they enter a different world–this could be literal or metaphorical (Ie. go to a new school, move to a new town; their best friend moves away, they lose a parent or a partner). This shift in your character’s comfort zone, their status quo world, forces them to make changes in order to make their new setting comfortable again
Here’s a personal example: Back in 2013 I moved to Daegu, South Korea to teach and experience life abroad. (I was born and bred in the US, by the way.) When I moved abroad, I had no friends or family with me, so I had to make new friends. Thankfully the program I went through allowed me to connect with other foreigners; I had Facebook groups where I could reach out to others in Korea; I also had a British coworker, who introduced me to the group of expats he knew.
I also had very few pieces of comfort in my new apartment–yes, I had a bed, a washer and dryer, some kitchen appliances, running water, and one roll of toilet paper. However, I had no cellphone, television, sofa, internet, not even food in the fridge or pantry. Once I was able to acquire what I needed–which took over a month–I became more comfortable. By month four of living in a new country, I had acclimated to my surroundings and new way of living.
- Consider your character’s weaknesses–their flaws–and their strengths
Why is this important? Well, your hero’s weaknesses get them into trouble, which actually aid them in learning to become a better character by making necessary changes; Their strengths save them in the end.
Consider what the weaknesses for your hero could be. Are they a people-pleaser? Stubborn? Selfish? Too positive or too negative?
And what are their strengths? Independent? Decisive? They ever give up? They stand up for others?
- Who are the secondary characters?
Secondary characters help the hero learn their lesson. These people are crucial to your story and they must exist in the hero’s life. They could be: a love-interest, neighbor, coworker, new friend, even a villain.
As you can see from the list above, the secondary characters vary, and they each help the hero learn their lesson in different ways. For instance, allowing themselves to fall in love with the love-interest may be the lesson; a neighbor, coworker, or friend may nudge them gently; and the villain may “defeat” their ego, teaching the hero to consider a new tactic.
- Think about the opportunities that will help your character learn their lesson
Once you have done so, thrust the hero into these opportunities/obstacles. This is the only way your hero will learn. And yes, you’re literally telling them “My child, you must fall and fail in life.” But don’t worry, they won’t stay down forever. You won’t let them.
Things to consider: Is your character afraid of heights? Then have them jump down a couple steps, get on an elevator, go on a kiddy rollercoaster ride, etc. If your character has had their trust broken by previous relationships, have them connect with others–such as new friends, new neighbors, co-workers–to build bonds and to start feeling safe to trust again.
- Play with the ending of your story
This is important because you need to show that your character has learned their lesson by the end of the story. So, write your ending–multiple endings–and show that your character has finally made the necessary changes to become a better person.
For example: If they were extremely stubborn in the beginning, show them considering others’ opinions; if they’ve been a people-pleaser, show them being assertive with their “no’s” and taking time to themselves; if they’ve been careless of others, show them putting the needs of others first.
- Write your beginning
Now that you know how your character should be in the end, write or rewrite their beginning, which should be the opposite of their ending. Play around with the beginning as well, by writing multiple introductions to the hero’s status quo world.
Once you have a story idea in mind, start thinking about the lesson your character must learn throughout your novel. This is vital in creating a compelling character who is to become a better version of themselves, to become the person they need to be. Follow the seven steps listed, and you’re on your way to creating a story that will be read, re-read, and even adapted into film, for years to come.
If you need AI generated writing ideas, try Writesonic.
Have fun writing!