Every story consists of four parts or Acts:
- Act I — Introduce the hero, the hero’s problem, and the villain
- Act IIa — Show the hero entering a new world and getting initial success
- Act IIb — Show the villain winning and the hero struggling and ultimately feeling all is lost
- Act III — Show the hero confronting the villain face to face
Every Act consists of two 15-minute segments where each 15-minute segment acts as its own mini-movie with four parts. Part I introduces a problem, Part II shows the hero successfully dealing with that problem, Part III shows the villain winning, and Part IV shows the confrontation between a protagonist and an antagonist.
Now take each 15-minute segment and divide it in half where each half represents a mini-movie that follows this same four part structure. In “Star Wars,” Part I is where Darth Vader’s stormtroopers catch and board Princess Leia’s starship. Part II is where Darth Vader arrives after the battle and searches for Princess Leia, who is trapped on her starship. Part III is where Princess Leia sneaks the plans in R2D2. Part IV is where he realizes that she doesn’t have the plans but has hidden them in R2D2 who has escaped from the escape pod, temporarily foiling Darth Vader’s goal.
Notice that these aren’t just random scenes, but scenes that tell a mini-story. Although we may not be aware of what’s going on in the beginning, afterwards we can see that Darth Vader was after the plans all along. Only at the end of the story do we see that he’s been thwarted, which starts the whole movie in motion.
Your movie as a whole tells a beginning of a goal, pursuit of a goal, setback to a goal, and the final outcome. Each Act exhibits this same four-part structure. Each 15-minute segment within each Act follows this identical structure, and each half of a 15-minute segment also follows this four part structure.
This is the basis for any story:
- Identify someone pursuing a goal
- Show that someone succeeding towards achieving that goal
- Show that someone facing a setback in reaching that goal
- Show the end result, do they get the goal or lose it?