STORY ESSENTIALS #9: Transformation

This series reveals what I consider to be the ESSENTIAL components of any great story. These are the principles you must master if you want to impact people’s lives – and increase your revenue – whether you’re creating a film, TV episode, novel, non-fiction or instructional book, speech, webinar, blog or sales pitch.

“Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”
CHINATOWN, screenplay by Robert Towne

This final line, from one of the greatest scripts ever written for Hollywood (some would say THE greatest script), conveys in five words the futility of Jake Gittes’ quest for justice, the folly of battling the forces of evil and corruption, and the tragic consequences of Jake believing that this time might be different, and that he might be able to make things right for someone he has come to care about.

“Nothing ever changes,” the movie seems to declare. The lust for power and money will always prevail. It will always be, as it is for Jake, like Chinatown.

But of course, lots of things have changed in this story. The mystery has been solved, and the truth has been revealed – even if our hero is unable to act on it. He has left the realm of sleazy adultery cases and at least momentarily allowed himself to experience his deeper feelings for Evelyn, and to fight a righteous fight on her behalf.

And as dark and tragic and the end of the film might seem, do any of us watching it wish he had not tried to do what he could to defeat Noah Cross and save Evelyn and her daughter? Even though it seems that nothing has changed for Jake and the world around him, we are transformed just by witnessing a hero who does what he can to make things right. We are reminded that yes, the world can often seem overcome with darkness, but we still must battle against feelings of powerlessness, cynicism and despair and do our best to make it better.

Of the nine essential elements of storytelling I have explored in this series, transformation may be the only one that will ALWAYS be present in every story we encounter. We might imagine a story that doesn’t have an individual hero, or a hero with whom we don’t really empathize, or even a story with no visible pursuit or conflict. But more than anything else, stories are ALWAYS about change.

I’m not talking about news stories with no resolution, anecdotes about a family vacation, or online posts and diatribes about how this happened, and then this happened and so on. These all just describe situations.

I’m referring to movies, novels, plays, speeches and business stories about characters who take action to solve difficult problems or achieve challenging goals – and how they – and the world around them – are transformed as a result.

In great stories for the page, the stage, or for screens large and small – the ones that captivate and inspire us by reminding us of our humanity – this necessary transformation occurs on multiple levels:

  • Your hero’s circumstances change. By the end of your story, the life your hero is living will be different than it was when your story began. His or her courage, cowardice, wisdom, ignorance, love or selfishness will have resulted in more (or less) happiness, wealth, power, status, love or belonging.
  • Your hero will experience an inner transformation, as their courage moves them away from some protective identity and into their essence — or at least into a new understanding of the world, and the limits of their ability to change it.
  • The lives of those close to your hero also change. Because of your hero’s actions, their loved ones, tribe, community, nation or the world at large will be safer, happier, empowered, enlightened, inspired or thankful.
  • Perhaps most important of all, the lives of your audiences will be transformed. You’ll have provided your readers or viewers entertainment and escape from their ordinary lives, and some kind of hope for the future. And the best of your stories will give them the emotional experience of sharing in your hero’s success and courage, inspiring your followers to take those feelings and beliefs into the world.
  • And when you incorporate transformative stories into your business presentations, you can persuade your followers to take the action you recommend, and help them improve their lives when they participate in your message, product or process.

Last of all, never forget that a great story transforms the storyteller. When you have the courage and commitment to share your creativity, wisdom, vulnerability and truth with the world through your stories, the feelings of connection, gratitude and fulfillment you yourself experience will be unsurpassed.

– Michael Hauge


Links to Michael’s previous articles in this series:




STORY ESSENTIALS #4: Opportunity/Crisis/Tipping Point