There are four phases of every story. First, the hero has a problem and a goal. Second, the hero achieves initial success. Third, the hero experiences setbacks. Fourth, the hero faces a confrontation.
Hulu, YouTube Movies, and Crackle are three movie sites that typically offer B-grade films, but occasionally they offer older feature movies worth seeing. At the time of this writing, Hulu is offering “The Ladykillers,” a remake of an older film of the same name.
The latest version of “The Ladykillers” was written by the Coen Brothers (“Fargo” and “Raising Arizona”) while starring Tom Hanks. If you watch this film, you can clearly see how this movie divides the entire story into four parts where each part has a goal that leads into the next part.
Part I: Tom Hanks is looking for a place to rent where he can practice with his musicians. In reality, he’s looking for a house that’s close to a casino that he wants to tunnel into and rob. By the end of this part, Tom Hanks is in the house with his fellow criminals. (Goal: Get into the house under the guise of a renter.)
Part II: Tom Hank’s actions raise the suspicion of the landlady, but despite minor setbacks, his plan goes smoothly and he finally wins the trust of his landlady. (Goal: Win the trust of the landlady.)
Part III: Tom Hanks and his criminal friends pull off the heist and get away with it, only to be caught by their landlady who tells them to return the money or she’ll call the police. (Goal: Pull off the heist successfully.)
Part IV: Tom Hanks and his criminals decide to keep the money and kill the landlady. By the end, they’ve failed. (Goal: Get away with the money.)
Each four part of the story is an entire mini-story of its own with goals that connect the next part of the story together. The overall story is that Tom Hanks wants to tunnel into a casino and rob it. Each part of the story shows his progress. The beginning of Part I defines the beginning of the villain’s goal and the end of Part IV defines the end result of the villain’s goal. If you just focus on Part I and IV, you can see the main story right away. (Goal: Tunnel into a casino and rob it.)
Now take your own screenplay or your favorite movie and see how it fits into this four-part story structure. If you examine a good story, you’ll see that the story flows naturally from one part to the next where each part is a mini-story in itself that concludes with a fixed goal.
Think of each part as four mini-goals leading up to the final goal. By breaking a big story into four parts (and later into eight parts), you’ll find it’s much easier to structure and write your story than trying to write a monolithic story of 120 pages right from the start.