There are two underlying structures behind every story:
- The Symbol of Hope
Every hero has a goal that he or she relentlessly pursues until the end. In many stories with a single villain, the villain also has a goal that he or she relentlessly pursues until the end.
In “Die Hard,” the hero has a goal of getting back with his wife and the villain has a goal of breaking into a vault, stealing corporate bonds, and getting away by blowing up the hostages on the roof. From beginning to end, the goals of the hero and villain drive the story forward. Even if we aren’t clear about the villain’s goals in the beginning, they become clear by the end.
Yet there’s another driving force of stories besides goals and that’s the Symbol of Hope. The Symbol of Hope provides structure to any story as follows:
- Act I – The villain introduces a Symbol of Hope that provides a path for the hero to follow
- Act IIa – The hero pursues the Symbol of Hope
- Act IIb – The hero rescues the Symbol of Hope
- Act III – The hero stops the villain from destroying the Symbol of Hope
Where the hero has a goal, the Symbol of Hope provides a path that allows the hero to achieve that goal. To pursue his or her initial dream, the hero must pursue the Symbol of Hope.
In “WALL-E,” the Symbol of Hope is the plant, which first appears in Act I. Although WALL-E doesn’t know it, the plant will indirectly allow him to achieve his initial dream of falling in love.
In Act IIa, WALL-E follows Eve (who has the plant) to the starship where the human race is marooned. Now in Act IIb, WALL-E helps save the plant from destruction and in Act III, WALL-E must save the plant from being destroyed by the villain.
In “Star Wars,” Luke’s Symbol of Hope appears when he sees Princess Leia’s hologram in Act I. In Act IIa, he follows Obi-wan to deliver R2D2 to Princess Leia’s planet. In Act IIb, Luke rescues Princess Leia. In Act III, Luke blows up the Death Star to keep Darth Vader from destroying the rebel base and Princess Leia.
The villain always has a goal, but the hero’s goal is directly tied to the Symbol of Hope. The pursuit of the Symbol of Hope drives the hero towards constant action and moves the story towards its conclusion.
So make sure your story has a Symbol of Hope of some kind that provides a path for the hero to achieve his or her initial dream. Then to achieve this dream, the hero must save the Symbol of Hope at the same time.