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Friday, January 29, 2010

The Hidden Need Triplet

The "hidden need" of the protagonist is an emotional lack that is solved during the course of the story. I first heard this term from Angela Hunt and Nancy Rue in a "NANGIE" class, and think it's a perfect way to describe this attribute.

The hidden need not only hurts the protagonist, but most ideally (according to John Truby in his Anatomy of a Story) it also hurts those around him or her. Some examples of this hidden need might be someone who is afraid to confront others, or who loves money more than family, or who is unconsciously arrogant.

The hidden need triplet describes 3 specific stages in which this flaw is actually solved in your protagonist:

1. Demonstrating the hidden need
2. Solving the hidden need
3. Demonstrating that the hidden need is solved

These stages normally occur in the second half of act two, right after the midpoint, and often form a "mini-story" to give a break from the excitement and story ramifications of the midpoint.
Let me use the movie U571 to demonstrate. It's a movie made in 2000 about a submarine crew in WW2 that wants to capture a Nazi Enigma machine (story goal). If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it! It's very exciting and beautifully done.

Stage One: Demonstrating the Hidden Need
Tyler is the second in command who likes to be a "big brother" figure to those under him, but is afraid to lead. Right after the midpoint disaster in which the captain is killed, he finds himself in command of a crippled ship. The men are worried. Tyler admits to them that he doesn't know what they're going to do. This scene starts at 55.1% of the whole.

Stage Two: Solving the Hidden Need
The chief petty officer takes Tyler aside and privately tells him to never, ever say to the crew again that he doesn't know what to do. The captain, he says, is an awesome figure, and must always present a strong presence in order to give courage and inspire loyalty and confidence in his men. Tyler listens carefully. This scene starts at 58.9% of the whole.

Stage Three: Hidden Need is Demonstrated to be Solved
The Americans surface and see a small Nazi plane flying overhead. Since they're on a German Uboat, Tyler tells his sailors to wave as if they are also Germans. One of Tyler's sailors orders the one manning the guns to strafe the Nazi plane, but Tyler orders him not to. There is hesitation but the gunner holds his fire, the sailors wave, and the Nazi plane seems to be fooled as he flies past. Then Tyler turns and punches out the sailor. "This isn't a democracy!" he growls. This scene starts at 60.5% of the whole.

Near the Darkest Moment when the Hidden Need is again Demonstrated
Close to the darkest moment, Tyler needs a functional torpedo tube, but it's underwater and for anyone to fix it will be very dangerous. Tyler orders one of his crew to go in there and FIX it, darn it, and do it now! This scene starts at 93.2% of the whole.


Let me do another, very different, story to demonstrate: Blink, by Ted Dekker (I don't like most of Dekker's stuff, but Blink is one of my favorite books). This story is about a genius, Seth Borders, who is suddenly able to see many possible futures. He rescues a Saudi princess who is being pursued to marry a ruthless man; the marriage will seal a political union.

Stage One: Demonstrating the Hidden Need
Seth enters a church and expresses his disbelief of God's existence because of the way the universe is run. This scene starts at 59.3% of the whole.

Stage Two: Solving the Hidden Need
While hiding out in the California desert, Seth and the princess build two altars: one to Allah and one to the "God of Jesus," since Seth has decided he'll give both a chance to prove their existence. With his gift of seeing possible futures, Seth knows that there is no way they can escape into Nevada. However, when he prays to the "God of Jesus," he suddenly sees one of the possibilities change so that they CAN make it. This scene starts at 65.5% of the whole.

Stage Three: Hidden Need is Demonstrated to be Solved
Seth and the princess cross over into Nevada, demonstrating that Seth's vision was correct. This scene starts at 66.2% of the whole.

Near the Darkest Moment when the Hidden Need is again Demonstrated
Seth's power to see possible futures starts to blink on and off, and during an off time he and the princess are trapped at gunpoint with the bad guy. Seth and the princess pray to the "God of Jesus," with trust and faith, although there seems to be no hope. This scene starts at 94.3% of the whole.


I could show you this same pattern in story after story after story. I included the percentages not to be rigid and say your hidden need triplet MUST occur here, but instead to give you an idea of the natural reliability of its placement. I was absolutely amazed after calculating story percentages to see just how closely different points of a story (not just hidden need triplet) tended to fall. This is another subject, however.

The hidden need triplet is a specific sequence of actions that solves the hidden need. Just having a protagonist with a hidden need suddenly acting better at the darkest moment is not the same, and will not have the same resonant effects.

When designing or editing your story, make sure that your protagonist has some sort of flaw that needs to be healed. Then, demonstrate clearly exactly how it IS healed. By doing this your story will carry a strong emotional punch.


Brandon said...

A great post, Amy. Hidden needs give depth to the characters as well, and they certainly create added drama!

Kat Heckenbach said...

Great illustration! Worth the wait :). Now, of course, I'm mentally analyzing my novel to see where my MC's "hidden need" comes into play!