In Act I (the first 30 minutes), the hero is stuck in a dead end life and gains hope when the villain inadvertently sends a Symbol of Hope into his or her life. Then in Act IIa (30 – 60 minutes), the hero learns from a mentor and needs help from an ally who is a mirror image of the hero. This allows the hero to see him or herself from another perspective.
Then in Act IIb (60 – 90 minutes), the hero is forced to change emotionally. This happens in several ways:
- The villain, who is another mirror image of the hero, has a strength that’s identical to the hero’s character flaw. The difference is that the villain can use this character flaw to pursue a selfish goal with horrible consequences. This allows the hero to indirectly see the danger of not changing.
- The hero helps the ally change. In the process of helping the ally change, the hero must change by becoming the type of person he or she will become in the end.
- The hero achieves a minor victory over the villain partially due to becoming less selfish and more concerned with others.
- The villain strikes back and nearly defeats the hero. This causes the hero to finally admit his or her major character flaw.
In Act IIb, the hero starts losing and the villain starts winning. Ironically, the villain starts winning by either using the hero’s character flaw to pursue a selfish goal or by demonstrating the evil side of the hero’s eventual emotional change.
In “Die Hard,” the hero’s character flaw is that he’s arrogant and selfish. That same quality is exactly what makes the villain so terrifying and powerful.
In “Star Wars,” Luke’s character flaw is that he’s not sure of himself. Unlike Luke, Darth Vader is extremely sure of himself, but he uses his power for selfish, evil purposes.
More importantly in Act IIb, the hero starts helping an ally change by becoming the person he or she needs to be. This foreshadows the hero’s eventual change in the end.
In “Legally Blonde,” the hero helps her hairdresser attract the UPS man she’s interested in and get back her dog from her ex-boyfriend. This forces the hero to be proactive and confident, which is how she’ll eventually change in the end.
In “Back to the Future,” the hero helps his dad become more assertive, ironically by being more assertive himself.
The third part of the hero’s emotional change occurs when the hero does something for someone else’s benefit, not just for him or herself.
In “Star Wars,” Luke frees Prince Leia from prison at the risk of his own life. (In the process, he also helps convince Hans to come along and start changing as well, which he’ll do when he chases the stormtroopers all by himself.)
In “Die Hard,” the hero rescues the SWAT team after the villain hurts them and pins them down.
Finally, the villain needs to nearly defeat the hero. This often occurs when the villain finally reveals the hero’s deception that he or she has been hiding behind all this time. This forces the hero to finally admit his or her character flaw. Only by finally admitting his or her character flaw can the hero finally change by giving up the old way of life.
In “School of Rock,” the hero has pretended to be a music teacher but is finally revealed that he lacks a teaching credential so he’s fired. This forces him to admit to himself that he’s just a failed musician.
In “Tootsie,” the hero has pretended to be a woman to get a role in a soap opera, but now he’s forced to realize he can’t pretend to be a woman if he wants to fall in love with an actress on the same show.
In Act IIb, the hero’s emotional change goes through four steps:
- Seeing the villain start succeeding by being the evil version of the hero.
- Helping an ally change.
- Pursuing a selfless goal.
- Admitting his or her character flaw.
Emotional change is the heart of any story so make sure your hero keeps changing throughout Act IIb.