Crafting a Story: Lessons Learned From Big Hero 6

First time I saw the film, I cried. I mean, who wouldn’t? Tadashi? Baymax? Tears! Tears! Then when it kept getting replayed in Star Movies, I decided to analyze the scenes and something dawned on me. The story is constructed in the same way Libbie Hawker describes in her book: Take Off Your Pants: Outline Your Books for Better, Faster Writing.

Libbie Hawker, when she writes her stories, comes up with her character’s flaws. Why? Because characters are the driving force behind your story. They have to make your readers want to keep reading.

So Libbie identifies the flaw, the goal, the conflict, and the theme. She also provides break-downs on different stories where the character’s flaw, goal, conflict, and theme coincide to make the story more… rounded. More fulfilling.

One example she wrote about was Charlotte’s Web:

The theme centers around death: The story begins with the farmer wanting to kill Wilbur because he’s the runt. The daughter saves her little swine friend, only for her father to decide to serve Wilbur on the dinner table a few years after (conflict)! So what does Charlotte the Spider do? She weaves a web to save Wilbur’s life.

Wilbur is afraid of death (flaw). He doesn’t want to die and he’s afraid and miserable about people dying and leaving. See how it ties with the theme of the story?

And the end? We all know what happens next: Charlotte dies. Death comes to us all and Wilbur had to learn that even though his friend was gone, she wasn’t really gone. Charlotte left behind her offspring, a legacy that will always remind Wilbur that life goes on.

Big Hero 6

Big Hero 6 also gives us a theme about loss, about handling and facing loss, grief, and death in our lives.

Our main character, Hiro, is shown doing something risky (and illegal) for someone his age. This tells us viewers that he’s not an ordinary kid. The scene immediately shows us his character (in short, it cuts the waking up – ordinary day – ordinary kid routine).

Then, we meet his older brother Tadashi, whose character serves to explain the brothers’ situation: Their parents are dead (loss/grief). He also serves as the bridge/reason for Hiro to meet a group of intelligent kiddos. And when Tadashi dies… Well, you know what happens next.

He was taken from us.

Tadashi’s death spurs Hiro into a motivation so strong, it drives the entire story. It’s the backbone of our story. It’s the reason we watch the next scenes! To see what happens with Hiro’s desire to find the one who killed his brother.

And helping him on his mission is a group of sidekicks all related to his brother, Tadashi. Despite the show being mostly happy and funny, the entire story is surrounded the aftermath of Tadashi’s death.

Let’s go now to when Hiro’s tipping point

A great main character or protagonist is someone who has a tipping point – someone we see, in the story, teetering over the precipice of good and evil, of mercy and revenge.

Hiro’s tipping point, you guessed it, was the time he found out that Professor Callaghan was the man in the kabuki mask. At first he was confused, but you could see the betrayal on his face – not because he trusted the professor, but because Tadashi did! Tadashi adored his teacher! Tadashi went back to the burning building to save Callaghan!

And the film broke your heart when Hiro said, “But Tadashi went in there to save you!”

Professor Callaghan, the cold-hearted bastard, replied with, “That was his mistake!”

I’m sure everyone either gasped or wanted to throw their chair at Callaghan, too, and we totally felt as justified as Hiro when he override Tadashi’s Healthcare program and went, “Baymax, destroy!”

That was also the time we saw Hiro’s good side dive off a cliff. He went crazy! He was willing to kill for revenge (like Callaghan was). Unfortunately, he didn’t succeed.

And when he got home, Baymax reminded him about Tadashi. That was all it took for everyone to break into tears (my mother included, and she didn’t even like cartoon films).

Hiro is redeemed. Just in time to stop the bad guy, who does a good job of representing what villains should do in a story: mirror the main character; represent a different path that the main character might have taken had he/she gotten carried away with vengeance/hate/greed, etc.

And how does the show end? It ends with Baymax’s sacrifice. In short, another loss. Subverted when Hiro made another Baymax and used his brother’s Healthcare program chip. Granted, it’s not the first Baymax, or the original, but it was literally the “He’s not gone; he’s still with us” message.

All in all, a highly satisfying end to a great movie. Just like Fred said, though, it’s “an origin story”. Even if they had never used the name “Big Hero 6”, it tells us that the people who are gone (like Tadashi who only wanted to help people) leave behind a legacy – of kindness, of good deeds… And although this film just kept getting compared to How to Train Your Dragon (because, c’mon, kid genius on a flying creature-friend), it speaks to the heart and just… makes you care… and cry!

So remember, it’s not enough to write a really complicated plot and so -shocking! plot twist. The elements of your story must touch one another. Don’t waste any theme, conflict, or flaw.

Don’t give your characters mismatched eyes just so that she could be different – or bullied because of her difference. What else is there inside your character that she/he must overcome? Something that will make us cry with him/her and ultimately root for him/her?

So, have you seen Big Hero 6? What insights did you get when you watched the film? How do you construct the bones of your story?

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