The midpoint of every story is the moment of highest happiness for the hero. That’s when everything looks perfect, but isn’t. That’s because the hero only achieves a physical goal, but fails to achieve an emotional goal.
Every hero has an initial goal. That goal can be divided into a physical goal and an emotional goal. The physical goal is something the hero can achieve without defeating the villain. The emotional goal is what the hero can only achieve by defeating the villain.
In “WALL-E,” WALL-E has a goal of falling in love. The physical goal is to get back with Eve. The emotional goal is to get Eve to fall in love with him as well.
WALL-E’s False Victory occurs when WALL-E follows Eve to the starship containing the last of the human race and after following her around, he finally meets up with her again in the starship control room. Although WALL-E seems to have achieved his goal of getting back with Eve, he still hasn’t gotten Eve to fall in love with him.
Only when Eve later sees the videos of WALL-E trying to protect her does she realize how much WALL-E cared for her. That’s when she starts caring for him in return.
In “Die Hard,” John McClane has a goal of getting back with his wife. The physical goal is to get back with his wife. The emotional goal is to fall in love with his wife again.
John McClane’s False Victory occurs when he finally contacts the authorities by throwing a dead terrorist on to the hood of a police car that’s about to leave. That seems to have achieved his eventual goal of getting back with his wife, but he still needs to change. Only when he’s later stuck, wounded in a rest room does he finally admit that he’s been a jerk to his wife and he really loves her after all. After admitting this fact to himself can he finally achieve his emotional goal, which is to fall in love with his wife again.
In “Legally Blonde,” the hero has an initial, physical goal of getting back with her boyfriend, but her real emotional goal is to find love while not relying on others. At her False Victory point, she has finally gotten back with her boyfriend at Harvard law school. Unfortunately, he’s already engaged to someone else. Only until the end will the hero realize she didn’t need her boyfriend as much as she needed to stand on her own two feet and not become dependent on anyone.
The False Victory occurs when the hero only achieves a physical goal but hasn’t changed into a better person yet. The final victory at the end occurs because the hero has changed.
So you can plot the change in your hero’s story like this:
- Act I – Hero has an initial goal
- Act IIa – Hero only achieves the physical aspect of the initial goal (False Victory)
- Act IIb – Hero admits flaws
- Act III – Hero changes through the mentor’s lesson and gains the emotional goal
The False Victory occurs when the hero achieves physical part of the initial goal, doesn’t defeat the villain, and doesn’t change.
The final ending occurs when the hero achieves the emotional part of the initial goal, defeats the villain, and changes.
Remember, the villain is the anti-hero, so by defeating the villain, the hero is actually defeating the evil version of him or herself. To defeat the villain, the hero must change. The False Victory can’t last because the hero still needs to change and become a better person.
Watch any movie and stop it around the halfway point. That’s when you’ll notice the hero appears to have succeeded. Every story needs that False Victory moment because it creates the greatest contrast later when the hero’s life seems to fall apart and all appears lost until the end when the hero finally learns to change.