Great Plot from Moral Weaknesses

Great Plot out of the moral premise in Tootsie
A great plot out of the moral premise in Tootsie

How do you generate a great plot from the moral weakness of your hero? You tailor-make the story goal to fit your hero’s weakness. Paring these two narrative events elevates your story to one of poetic justice.

One way to tie the character to the goal is to link it to the moral premise of the story. Ask, what does my character learn by pursuing and eventually gaining the goal?

If your character is stingy, he has to learn to be generous (Scrooge). If he is cowardly and narcissistic, he ends up in a situation where he has to save the world (Edge of Tomorrow.)

There is an ironic relationship between the character’s flaw or weakness and the challenge he is presented with because it is this very weakness that needs to be eliminated in order for him to become whole again.

“The point of a great plot is, at least in part, to teach the hero a moral lesson.”

Few films illustrate this better than Tootsie. In the film, Dustin Hoffman plays a man who has little respect for women, treating them poorly. But he is an out-of-work actor who desperately seeks an acting job. Ironically, he lands a part playing a woman by pretending to be a woman—a role he has to continue playing outside the studio. This exposes him to the sort of mistreatment he has subjected women to in the past. Experiencing this behaviour first hand is a lesson that causes him to grow and change. The plot is fitting because it is geared towards fixing the inner failing of the protagonist.

And so it’s should be with every great story. The plot should showcase the hero’s weakness by placing him in a situation that can only be solved by addressing that very weakness in the plot and in himself.


Behind every great plot is a protagonist who solves the story problem by addressing an inner weakness in his character.

2 thoughts on “Great Plot from Moral Weaknesses

  1. Stavros Halvatzis Post author

    Yes, quite so, Gerhard. Customising the moral premise of the hero by tying it specifically to the external problem presented by the plot elevates the story greatly.

  2. Gerhard Pistorius

    A very interesting article. It is often the case that the intended moral message does not always come across as strongly. For example most romantic comedies . 99 of every 100 Romantic comedies are so predictable you don’t even need to switch on your brain. However there is that one Rom com that’s message comes across that you can’t help but reevaluate your own moral code. The Devil wears Prada starring Anne Hathaway and Meryl Streep is one such romantic comedy . A naive young girl must learn to adapt into the world of fashion to survive the Odyssey that is her day job. The young girl represents everything every young person entering the work fore embodies – She’s bright , educated and determined. Then there’s Meryl Streep’s character who is the living embodiment of absolutely everything that Anne’s character despises . Meryl character is shallow, vain, cold and vicious – this is what defines the world of fashion . Anne’s trades automatically transformed into flaws the moment she enters the fashion building because she is the one employee who does not worship the fashion industry. The plot and emotional arch in Anne’s journey lies in her having to adapt the ideals of the fashion industry at the same time trying to remain true to who she is – a collage educated woman who has aspirations of becoming a journalist.
    Anne constantly has to play devil’s advocate because she recognizes that her job is a stepping stone to achieving her aspirations – this is why she is determined not to brake despite Meryl’s character’s cruel nature . However the conflict arises when she starts to flourish at her job after having gone through a physical and emotional transformation and in the process turn into a person her friends and family hardly recognize. It’s a very unique twist on the Rom com genre that suggest that a professional relationship can effect your personal life much like any relationship between yourself and another person who wants to isolate you from you ideals and your family.

    In short : A good challenge to present to your hero is to force them in a situation that makes them question there ideas.


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