1. All protagonists need a clearly defined goal
I’m going to tell you something that many in the story-writing world find shocking. Only Hero stories need to begin with a clearly defined goal. Big breath. Virgin stories don’t know where the protagonist will land. It’s about awakening to her inner voice and trusting it. She changes course as she learns more about herself. The Virgin is learning to connect to her authentic voice, her true talent and to make that learning part of her physical world, no matter what other people think or want from her.
A goal is an external driver. Virgins are about their inner driver. Virgin stories need to begin with an understanding of what is holding her back from living her best life, and the cost of doing that. As she awakens to her potential, the world responds in interesting ways, opening doors, revealing new possibilities. The fun part is seeing where this takes her over the course of the movie. It’s a surprise. The key is that she learns to trust her inner wisdom. The ability to stay connected to this inner guide is what counts. Heroes stick to the goal no matter what. From beginning to end the Virgin does not know where she will finish. She knows when she has arrived by how it feels.
In The King’s Speech, Edward needs to break free of his self-doubt brought on by his childhood programming that he is the inferior son. No one knew his country would need a great leader because a second world war was coming. The key to his transformation was to release him from the painful messages of his worth given to him in his childhood and to hear his own voice in his head. When he awakened to his innate leadership ability he was able to fulfill his destiny and influence the course of history.
In Pretty Woman, Vivian didn’t set out to go to business school or marry rich. She started out believing she was only worthy of bums and made her living proving it was true. The movie is about her transformation to see she has value for being herself and that she can expect other people to treat her with respect as well that important to me what she became or if they got married. I believe she learned she is of value and no matter what she does that growth will guide her. Not clearly defined goal but an awakening to her true worth drives the story.. After this shift in self-knowledge a bunch of other things started to fall into place.
2. Story needs mounting obstacles
Crisis, crisis, crisis. Don’t you get tired of people running from explosions and beating the clock? Fear and crisis cause the protagonist to push back against what he doesn’t want to happen. Scarcity of resources, impending threat to the village, an uncorrected injustice that opens the door to anarchy are all Hero’s journeys. In stark contrast, love and joy inspire the Virgin to explore creativity, sensuality and spirituality on her unique journey to understanding that she is worthy of love, that what brings her joy is important, and that she has the right to take up some space in her life and share what she really feels and wants.
There is another world and it is driven by love. Rather than pushing back against what the Hero doesn’t want to happen, the Virgin is pulling good things into her life. A Virgin story progresses through a greater and deeper connection to what she loves and who she authentically is. At the climax there is so much joy that it outweighs the inconvenience it may bring to people, or any self-doubt that she had. Empowerment comes from recognizing her right to be happy and seeing her dreams and talents come to life. It is a recognition of an internal growth that is joyful. It brings the audience to their feet, or moves them to tears.
In About a Boy it is the moment that Will decides he is not an island, he doesn’t want to be an island, and who he wants in his world is Marcus. When he walks on stage, the mockery of people cannot hurt him because he knows he is connected to what is important to him. It is what he cares about that matters – not what others think. He even allows the world to see that he cares about music, as he closes his eyes and sings.
In Precious, we see Precious gradually see she is worthy of love. It is this personal growth that drives the story. The story tension is the risk of self-sabotage due to a limiting belief. Nothing will change until the protagonist starts accepting good things into her life and experiencing what it feels like to follow what brings her joy. This experience brings a connection to soul and joy. The tension comes from the temptation to accept a low opinion of self or to let someone enter her world before she have firmly attached to what brings her joy and her right to have it in her life.
Rocky, Fight Club, Little Voice, Nobody Loves Me, Kinky Boots, Her, Brave, and Frozen all pull the story forward by the protagonist developing a connection to who they are. Belonging in their skin.
The driver of the Virgin story is an ever-growing connection to the joy of being yourself. That Marianne Williamson poem that Nelson Mandela made famous captures the essence beautifully.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?”
Joy, authenticity and happiness drive a Virgin story. Not as a reward at the end for hard work and self-sacrifice but an awakening to her worthiness of having what she loves in her life just for being herself. Happiness does not come from an absence of danger and earned reward. It comes from a life filled with gratitude and self-care and the ability to exist in the moment. It requires an internal gaze as opposed to a heads up attitude for incoming hazards. Virgin stories explore the unfolding of this ability to enter the world of love and learn its operating system. My favorite movie is Enchanted April, which does a brilliant job of showing how to move from fear to love as a driver.
3. The antagonist never changes his stripes, evil must be eliminated
The antagonist in a Virgin story will often grow, inspired by his love for the Virgin. In the beginning, the antagonist may feel he is limiting her life for her own good. Or, it doesn’t occur to him that she may have different values or needs other than being a pawn in his power games. Once the Virgin is able to make her authentic nature visible and show her shining self, the antagonist sees the value in her dream and gets behind it.
In a Hero story evil is outside of what the Hero values and must be eliminated. The village must be protected from an external threat in order to be preserved. In a Virgin story her change inspires her community to also change. The kingdom was in need of growth even through it did not know it until the Virgin made it obvious through her personal growth.
In Bend It Like Beckham the father is trying to protect Jas from the pain he experienced as an Indian athlete in England. He is not thinking about the joy his daughter feels when she is bringing her talent to life. Once he sees the joy drained from her life because of her compliance to his wishes, he recognizes that her joy is more important than her compliance.
In Enchanted April once the women connect to their way of being, their talent for making connections takes form. They do this by allowing the beauty of nature to replenish them and connect them to their souls and from this empowered place they generate more love. They trust their feelings of joy and this generates joy around them. When the husbands join them they are able to inspire connections in the men to their goodness, and the balance of masculine and feminine power is created.
I hope I haven’t freaked you out too much.
There is another world and it is Virginal.
Kim Hudson comes to London 2-3 December to teach Writing Stories of Personal Growth: Screenwriting from a Feminine Perspective