For the first 15 minutes, your story must introduce the villain, the hero, and the hero’s goal. Often times the villain and hero live in completely separate worlds. What ties the hero to the villain is the Symbol of Hope that typically appears at the 15 minute mark of a 120-minute movie.
The Symbol of Hope comes from the villain and jolts the hero out of his or her ordinary way of life. In “Star Wars,” Luke had a dream of leaving his uncle’s farm but no clear path to achieving that goal. That’s the purpose of the Symbol of Hope, to give the hero a clear path to achieving the initial dream.
At approximately the 15 minute mark, Luke accidentally views Princess Leia’s hologram hidden inside R2D2. Because R2D2 escaped from Darth Vader, Darth Vader indirectly helped deliver this Symbol of Hope to Luke.
At the 15 minute mark, the Symbol of Hope links the hero to the villain. Then at the 30 minute mark, the hero pursues this Symbol of Hope into a new world. In “Star Wars,” this occurs when Luke decides to go with Obi-wan and leave his uncle’s farm. What caused this sudden change in Luke’s heart? His uncle’s death, which was brought about indirectly by Darth Vader.
At the 45 minute mark, the hero typically gets outside help, often from an ally, which can help the hero continue pursuing the Symbol of Hope. Luke and Obi-wan want to get to Princess Leia’s planet with R2D2, so at the 45 minute mark, they meet Hans Solo. Hans helps Luke get to the 60 minute mark, which is where he flies Luke off his boring planet once and for all.
So the first half of every story looks like this:
- 15 minutes — Villain introduces a Symbol of Hope into the hero’s life
- 30 minutes — The villain indirectly forces the hero to choose to enter a new world to pursue the Symbol of Hope
- 45 minutes — The hero meets an ally who helps the hero continue pursuing the Symbol of Hope
- 60 minutes — The hero appears to achieve the physical aspect of the initial goal
Once the hero reaches the midpoint of a story, things start falling apart, but the overall goal is to protect the Symbol of Hope. At the 75 minute mark, the hero typically achieves a minor victory of some kind. In “Star Wars,” this occurs when Luke and Hans trick the guards, sneak out of the Millennium Falcon, and hide inside the guard station. That’s also when Luke discovers that Princess Leia is imprisoned and about to be executed. Once again, the hero continues pursuing the Symbol of Hope.
At the 90 minute mark, the hero hits a rock bottom moment. This occurs when Luke gets everyone to the Millennium Falcon but Darth Vader kills Obi-wan. Often times at the 90 minute mark, the mentor dies or is forced to leave the hero so the hero must finally confront the villain alone.
Once Act III begins after the 90 minute mark, the hero focuses on defeating the villain to save the Symbol of Hope. At the 105 minute mark, the hero typically defeats the villain’s major henchman. In “Star Wars,” this occurs when Luke survives the TIE fighter attack although his X-wing fighter gets damaged.
In the last 15 minutes of the movie, the hero confronts the villain and uses the mentor’s help to finally defeat the villain. In these last 15 minutes, the villain is threatening the Symbol of Hope. If the villain wins, the Symbol of Hope will be lost forever. In “Star Wars,” this occurs when the Death Star approaches the rebel base and Princess Leia’s fate is nearly doomed until Luke finally blows the Death Star apart.
So the second half of every story looks like this:
- 75 minutes — The hero achieves a minor victory to rescue the Symbol of Hope
- 90 minutes — All appears lost to the hero
- 105 minutes — The hero defeats a main henchman
- 120 minutes — The hero saves the Symbol of Hope from the villain
Time any 120-minute movie and every 15 minutes you’ll notice the Symbol of Hope thread linking your hero to the villain. The Symbol of Hope is an integral part of every story. In the beginning, the Symbol of Hope helps jolt the hero into action. In the middle, the Symbol of Hope keeps the hero linked to the villain. In the end, the hero must defeat the villain to save the Symbol of Hope or risk losing it forever.
The Symbol of Hope is what links the hero to the villain. Make sure your story includes a Symbol of Hope introduced into the hero’s life by the villain. This is the secret thread that keeps the hero and villain constantly battling each other until the end.