Step One: Weakness and Need, part two

I’m dissecting John Truby’s book, THE ANATOMY OF STORY. In the last post I introduced the concept of the hero having a weakness and a need at the beginning of the story. Today I want to dive deeper into this concept and look at two types of need: moral and psychological.

“In average stories,” Truby says, “the hero has only a psychological need.” This involves overcoming a serious flaw that is hurting the hero, but doesn’t impact any other story characters.

“In better stories,” Truby continues, “the hero has a moral need in addition to a psychological need.” The hero needs to overcome this moral flaw and learn how to act properly toward the other characters. “A character with a moral need is always hurting others in some way at the beginning of the story.” Worse, he is unaware that he’s hurting others.

It’s important to give the hero both of these needs because it makes the character richer. It moves the reader more powerfully. It keeps the hero from being too perfect, and therefore unbelievable, predictable, and boring.
In addition to weakness and need, the hero has a problem. It’s the crisis, the trouble, that the hero finds himself in early in the story. In TOOTSIE, Michael’s weakness is that he’s arrogant, selfish, and a liar. His problem is that he’s an excellent actor, but he’s overbearing and no one will hire him.
In THE GODFATHER, Michael Corleone is young, inexperienced, untested, and overconfident (his weakness). His psychological need is that he must overcome his sense of superiority and self-righteousness. His moral need is to avoid becoming ruthless like the other Mafia bosses while still protecting his family. His problem is that rival gang members shoot his father.

In your work in progress, does your hero have a psychological need (a flaw that hurts only himself) AND a moral need (a flaw that hurts others)? If not, stay tuned. In the next post I’ll offer the technique Truby offers for creating a moral need.

-Sonja

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