The 4 Levels of Transformation

When your goal is to deliver a written or spoken story that elicits emotion (as it ALWAYS must be), your story has to include 3 essential elements: character, desire and conflict. You must introduce us to an empathetic character who desperately wants some compelling goal, and who must overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles to achieve it.

But to touch your readers and audiences deeply, a fourth element is just as crucial: transformation.

Something must change in the course of your story. Life must be different in some way as a result of your hero taking this journey and achieving (or failing to achieve) his or her goal.

This transformation will occur on four different levels. The first three are:

  1. Your hero’s external circumstances will change. She (or he) might be wealthier, more powerful, more successful, more admired; she’s is in a new relationship; she is no longer threatened by the villain or demon or disease she overcame; or (if she was unsuccessful) she might be alone, or disgraced, or deceased.
  2. Your hero has changed internally. The arc of her inner journey might have made her more courageous, more loving, more moral, or (whether she succeeded or failed) wiser.
  3. The world around your hero has changed. Her courage and sacrifice has made those around her safer, happier, wiser, more loving or more courageous themselves.

In last year’s Oscar® winning film The Shape of Water, the hero Elisa desperately wants to rescue – and ultimately be with – the amphibious creature with whom she is falling in love, in spite of the government agent who tortures and torments him, the military General who wants to experiment on him or kill him, the impossibility of getting him away from the facility where he’s imprisoned, and the fact that he is slowly dying.

(If you haven’t seen the film, stop reading now and watch it – it’s terrific.)

By the end of The Shape of Water:

  1. The hero’s circumstances have changed: she is united with the creature.
  2. The hero has changed: she is no longer meek and withdrawn, but courageous and connected.
  3. The world has changed: the creature is safe and resurrected; the evil threat to the two lovers is vanquished; and her friend Giles has found a level of courage – and perhaps a faith in love and magic – that he lacked at the beginning of the story.

The fourth transformation may be harder to recognize and achieve, but will be just as powerful: you, the storyteller, will change.

If you have the courage to tell stories that grow out of your own fears and failures and successes – out of your own flawed humanity – then you will experience a greater sense of your own inner strength and courage and connection. And these are the stories that will touch your followers most deeply.