Some of the best stories that resonate with us years later are of personal triumph, where a character must overcome an internal struggle to be successful, even if they lose a physical challenge at the end of the journey.
In order for a story to pull this off successfully, it should have four important elements and one essential element to ensure audience satisfaction.
The Four Key Elements:
Emotional investment in the character.
If we don’t care about the character, then the story doesn’t matter and in the end we feel as though we’ve wasted our time.
A powerful internal struggle that people can relate to.
There are many books and movies where the main character’s (MC) internal struggle was powerful for the character and relatable enough to hold one’s interest. However, more is needed if the MC doesn’t win the external struggle in the traditional sense that we’ve come to expect. In those cases, the internal struggle must be powerful for the audience, something on a fundamental, primal level we can all relate to.
Terrible odds that are not in the MC’s favor will create more tension, build anticipation, and deepen our emotional investment.
A difficult antagonist.
Throw in an antagonist that is a bully, egotistical, stronger than our MC, cutthroat or downright mean and not only does the audience want the MC to kick their butt, the audience wishes they could do the butt-kicking.
The Essential Element has two parts:
1. The internal struggle must be greater than the external struggle. 2. By conquering it, the MC must accomplish something no one else has been able to do.
If the MC can defeat their personal demons, rise above whatever they have desperately been grappling with mentally, then in the end they have won, and the audience will derive a sense of satisfaction.
If the accomplishment is tied to the external struggle in such a way that the MC’s special quality makes them shine brighter than anyone else, then audience satisfaction becomes so profound nothing else matters.
Two movies that are excellent examples: Rocky and Soul Surfer.
So why does Rocky agree to do it? It’s his chance, his last chance, to prove to himself and everyone else that he’s more than a bum, that he has dignity and is a person of worth.
Another example is Soul Surfer. It’s based on the true story of Bethany Hamilton, a teenage surfer who lost her arm in a horrible shark attack. Bethany struggles with redefining her personal identity and how to continue doing something she loves when it feels virtually impossible. I don’t want to say much more about it and ruin the film for those who haven’t seen it. However, if you’ve seen the movie, then you know how it applies here.
Are there any movies or books that you enjoyed, which didn’t have the traditional ending you expected, but still came away feeling satisfied?