In Act I (the first 30 minutes of a two hour movie), the hero has an unresolved emotional problem:
- The hero is stuck in a dead end life because of his or her own character flaw
- The hero’s character flaw stems from a traumatic past
- The villain indirectly gives the hero a physical path to change
- The physical path leads the hero to a mentor
In Act IIa (which covers the 30 – 60 minute span), the hero enters a new world where he or she is forced to change emotionally. However, changing emotionally is never easy, which means the hero must go through several stages of changing.
- The hero sees what’s possible through the help of a mentor
- The hero meets an ally who embodies similar emotional problems as the hero, allowing the hero to essentially see him or herself
- The villain threatens the hero’s emotional dream defined in Act I
- The hero takes a chance and achieves a physical goal (False Victory)
In “Star Wars,” Luke enters a new world filled with shady criminals. He gets his first taste of what he could become by witnessing Obi-wan use the Force to get them past the Stormtroopers blocking the starwort.
In Act IIa, the mentor always shows the hero what he or she could become because at this point, the hero is too timid and fearful to change.
In “Thelma and Louise,” Thelma changes the most so she’s the hero while Louise is the mentor. In Act IIa, Louise rescues Thelma from getting raped, which foreshadows Thelma’s own change later when she takes control of her life.
After the mentor foreshadows the hero’s change, the hero next meets an ally who represents the type of person the hero is. Initially, the hero needs the ally’s help, but eventually the hero sees the ally as a mirror image of him or herself.
In “Star Wars,” Luke needs Hans Solo, but Hans is just as flawed as Luke. In “Legally Blonde,” Elle needs a hairdresser to help her deal with the frustration of law school, but she sees that this hairdresser is also yearning for love and feels trapped in her life because her ex-boyfriend has her dog.
So the first step is to learn from the mentor. The second step is to get help from an ally and see him or herself reflected in that ally.
Now the third step to emotional change occurs when the villain threatens the hero. In Act I, the hero has an emotional dream that he or she is pursuing, which is embodies physical as a Symbol of Hope.
The villain threatens the hero’s pursuit of this Symbol of Hope to force the hero to recommit to changing emotionally and further forcing the hero to move along the path to changing. In “Star Wars,” Darth Vader’s stormtroopers threaten to arrest Luke and Obi-wan, forcing Luke to keep moving to avoid getting caught.
In “Legally Blonde,” the hero’s ex-boyfriend’s fiancé tricks the hero into showing up at a party dressed in a costume to humiliate her. This threatens to keep the hero from winning back her ex-boyfriend. Then her ex-boyfriend tells her she’s not smart enough to be in law school, which provides further motivation to not give up.
The final stage occurs when the hero achieves a physical goal that seems to give the hero the emotional dream, but only provides a physical goal (False Victory).
In “Star Wars,” this occurs when Luke finally leaves his planet, which was his goal all along, but he still has yet to live the adventure he yearns for.
In “Legally Blonde,” Elle gets an internship with her law professor, which seems to validate that she’s smart enough to go to law school. However, she still lacks love in her life.
In Act IIa, make your hero go through gradual changes leading to the eventual emotional change in the end:
- The hero learns about a new way of life from a mentor
- The hero needs help from an ally who reflects the hero’s own emotional dream
- The villain threatens the hero, forcing him or her to keep moving forward and not give up
- The hero manages to achieve a physical goal (False Victory) that seems desirable, yet fails to fulfill the hero’s original emotional dream
By the midpoint of your story, the hero should be in a seemingly wonderful situation, only the villain still hasn’t been defeated and the hero has yet to completely change emotionally.