When someone gets an idea for a story, they often overcomplicate things. Instead of telling a single story, they rush into telling multiple stories that often have no relevance or relation to each other. The end result is a muddled, confused mess.
The key to turning an idea into a story is to realize that every tory progresses from a starting point to an ending where the hero’s state in the beginning is the complete opposite in the end. Along the way, the story progresses in four major steps.
For example, in “E.T.”, the story is that Elliot feels alone despite having a mother, brother, and sister. By the end of the story, Elliot no longer feels alone, having made a friend in E.T. and in gaining the respect of his brother and his brother’s friends.
How “E.T.” progresses involves four basic steps:
- Act I – Elliot discovers E.T.
- Act IIa – Elliot hides E.T. in his closest
- Act IIb – Elliot helps E.T. communicate with his spaceship
- Act III – Elliot helps E.T. escape from the government and get back to his spaceship
Of course, there’s a lot more going on in “E.T.” than these four basic steps, but once you define the four basic steps of your story, you now have a direction for your story. These four basic steps all center around the Symbol of Hope, which the villain inadvertently introduces into the hero’s life like this:
- Act I – Villain inadvertently introduces Symbol of Hope into hero’s world
- Act IIa – Hero decides to follow Symbol of Hope (low risk)
- Act IIb – Hero needs to protect Symbol of Hope (medium risk)
- Act III – Hero needs to save Symbol of Hope (high risk)
Notice that the stakes to the hero gradually increase. In “E.T.”, Elliot discovers E.T. Then in Act IIa, he hides E.T. in his closet, but if he’s discovered, there’s little risk to Elliot.
In Act IIb, the stakes get higher for Elliot hides E.T. during Halloween so he can take him into the forest where E.T. can send out a message to his spaceship. This increases the risk to Elliot since he now risks his mother’s wrath when he doesn’t come home in time.
In Act III, the stakes reach their peak risk as Elliot helps E.T. escape from the government and return back to his spaceship.
Go through any story and look for the Symbol of Hope that comes into the hero’s life. Then the four parts of the hero’s story now involves following this Symbol of Hope, protecting it, and ultimately saving it from the villain.
In “Star Wars,” the Symbol of Hope is Princess Leia like this:
- Act I – Luke sees the hologram of Princess Leia.
- Act IIa – Luke agrees to go with Obi-wan to Princess Leia’s planet to deliver R2D2
- Act IIb – Luke rescues Princess Leia from he Death Star
- Act III – Luke destroys the Death Star before it can blow up Princess Leia on the rebel base
Once you can identify your hero’s Symbol of Hope, then you know your hero must follow it (Act IIa), protect it (Act IIb), and ultimately save it from destruction at the hands of the villain (Act III).
By laying out the four major parts of your story, you can create a framework to base the rest of your story on.