John Truby’s book, THE ANATOMY OF STORY, offers seven steps to creating a great hero for a great story structure. Step six is Self-Revelation.Step five, covered in the last post, was Battle. “The battle is an intense and painful experience for the hero,” Truby says. And this battle causes the hero to have a revelation about who he is. In a psychological self-revelation, the hero sees himself honestly for the first time. This stripping away of the old facade is a painful and courageous act, the most courageous thing the hero has done in the entire story. In BIG, John realizes he has to leave his girlfriend and his life at the toy company to go back to being a kid if he is to have a successful life as an adult. In CASABLANCA, Ricks sheds his cynicism, regains his idealism, and sacrifices his lover to become a freedom fighter.
If your hero has a moral need (which he should), his self-revelation should be moral as well. He doesn’t just see himself in a new light; he has an insight about the proper way to act toward others. He realizes he’s been wrong, that he’s hurt others, and that he must change. Then he proves he has changed by taking new moral action. In TOOTSIE, Michael realizes he’s been a scoundrel and apologizes to the woman he loves. Note that he says it in a clever and comical manner to avoid sermonizing.
Self-revelation is most closely connected to need. Need is the beginning of the hero’s character change, and self-revelation is the end-point of that change. Need marks his immaturity, what he’s missing, what is holding him back. Self-revelation is the moment when he’s grown as a human being. It’s what he’s learned, what allows him to be a better man. This is a tough step to pull off without sounding preachy. Instead of having your hero say out loud what new thing he’s learned, or what new insight he has into himself, SHOW him acting on this new-found knowledge.