A typical 120-minute movie can be divided into four Acts of 30 minutes each:
- Act I
- Act IIa
- Act IIb
- Act III
In Act I, the villain introduces a Symbol of Hope into the hero’s life and then the hero pursues that Symbol of Hope to make a Leap of Faith into a strange new world. Act IIa is about the hero continuing to pursue that Symbol of Hope and finally achieving it, then ultimately almost losing it.
The basic structure for the Symbol of Hope in Act IIa and Act IIb looks like this:
- Act IIa – The hero pursues the Symbol of Hope, then finally achieves it.
- Act IIb – The hero struggles to protect the Symbol of Hope from the villain and nearly loses it.
In “Star Wars,” the Symbol of Hope is Princess Leia. In Act IIa, Luke agrees to leave his uncle’s farm and follow Obi-wan to deliver R2D2 to Princess Leia. Despite the constant threat of storm troopers, Luke finally boards the Millennium Falcon and blasts off his planet, on his way to Princess Leia’s planet.
Act IIa is all about the hero slowly getting closer to achieving the Symbol of Hope despite the villain’s constant interference. Then the hero finally gets what he or she wanted in the Symbol of Hope.
In Act IIb, life starts turning against the hero. In “Star Wars,” Luke gets caught by the Death Star. then when he rescues Princess Leia, he gets trapped by storm troopers. Then he almost gets crushed in a trash compactor. Finally, more storm troopers threaten to keep him from getting to the Millennium Falcon.
Throughout Act IIb, Luke must constantly protect Princess Leia from danger. Finally, Luke gets Princess Leia on the Millennium Falcon and they escape from the Death Star.
In “Room,” the Symbol of Hope first appears as a rat that represents freedom. In Act I, we learn that the hero is trapped in a prison garden shed in the villain’s backyard. In Act IIa, the hero starts to pursue the Symbol of Hope by planning to use her son to help her escape her prison. The first half of Act IIa is about planning. The second half of Act IIa is about putting the plan in action.
By the end of Act IIa, the hero has succeeded and her son has brought the police to rescue her from her prison garden shed. The hero has finally achieved her Symbol of Hope goal, which was freedom.
Now in Act IIb, the hero must protect the Symbol of Hope, which is her freedom. Even though the villain is no longer seen, the hero’s freedom starts getting into jeopardy. First, the hero’s son has troubler adjusting to the real world. Then the hero’s father has trouble adjusting to the hero’s son whose father was the villain who raped the hero.
Finally the hero herself starts getting mad at what happened to her and blames other people. Finally after a news interview, the hero feels guilty for keeping her son in the garden shed prison with her all these years, so the hero tries to commit suicide.
Think of Act IIa and Act IIb as a separate story that depicts the rise and fall of a goal. In “Star Wars,” the hero starts off wanting to get to Princess Leia. Then the hero gets to Princess Leia’s planet but it’s gone. Finally, the hero rescues Princess Leia from her prison and barely manages to save her by escaping the Death Star.
In “Room,” Act IIa begins with the hero wanting to achieve her freedom. By the end of Act IIa, she gets her freedom. Then in Act IIb, her freedom starts to fall into doubt until by the end of Act IIb, she nearly loses her freedom by trying to kill herself.
The structure of Act II’s Symbol of Hope goal looks like this:
- Act IIa, the hero pursues a Symbol of Hope in a strange new world
- Midpoint, the hero achieves the Symbol of Hope goal
- Act IIb, the hero must struggle to protect the Symbol of Hope until almost losing it at the end
Study any good movie and look for the Symbol of Hope that the hero introduces into the hero’;s life early in Act I. Then watch how the hero pursues this Symbol of Hope throughout Act IIa and Act IIb. Notice the parallel structure of Act IIa and Act IIb where the hero keeps pursuing a goal until achieving it at the midpoint, then nearly losing it in the end.
Ultimately, the Symbol of Hope is the thread that holds Act II together.