Every hero has a self-defeating belief that drives that drives that character’s actions. Since this self-defeating belief is holding the hero stuck in a dead end life, the only way the hero can achieve his or her dream is to embrace a new belief.
This tug of war between the self-defeating belief and the new, empowering belief is what drives all conflict throughout the story. To transition from the self-defeating belief to the new, empowering belief, the hero must temporarily embrace both at the same time.
In Act IIa, this embrace of two conflicting beliefs occurs when the hero deceives others. This deception foreshadows the new, empowering belief while still clinging to the self-defeating belief.
In Act IIb, this embrace of two conflicting beliefs creates massive problems for the hero. The only solution is for the hero to choose. If the hero chooses the self-defeating belief, the hero will lose. If the hero chooses the new, empowering belief, there’s a slight chance the hero can win, but this new, empowering belief appears extremely difficult to follow.
Given a choice between the safety of the self-defeating belief or the risk of the new, empowering belief, the self-defeating belief looks like the easiest choice. However, only the new, empowering belief offers the hero a chance to achieve the original emotional dream, so that’s why the hero must take this choice.
- Act I – The hero starts with a self-defeating inner belief that’s keeping him or her from achieving an emotional dream.
- Act IIa – The hero enters a new world where he or she must deceive others to get what they want. This deception lets the hero experience a new belief while still clinging to the original self-defeating belief.
- Act IIb – The villain strips away the hero’s deception, destroying the hero’s old world and threatening any chance to achieve the original emotional dream. This forces the hero to choose either the old self-defeating belief or take a chance to embrace a new self-belief. The hero can no longer hold on to both beliefs, which is why the hero’s life has fallen completely apart.
- Act III – The hero risks embracing a new self-belief that achieves the original emotional dream.
In “Legally Blonde,” the hero’s inner emotional change looks like this:
- Act I – Elle thinks she’s not strong enough without a man.
- Act IIa – Elle manages to get into Harvard law school (foreshadowing a new belief that she doesn’t need a man after all) to pursue her ex-boyfriend (she’s still clinging to her self-defeating belief that she needs a man).
- Act IIb – Elle’s law professor treats her like a sex object, forcing her to abandon law school (making her feel she’s not strong enough on her own, which is her initial self-defeating belief), or staying in law school (her new belief that she is strong enough without a man).
- Act III – Elle takes a chance and finally realizes she is strong enough without a man (her new inner belief).
In Act IIa, the tug of war between the initial self-defeating belief and the new belief defines the hero’s physical action. Because Elle is still clinging to her self-defeating belief, she’s chasing after her ex-boyfriend. Because Elle needs to experience a new belief that she is strong enough without a man, she manages to get into Harvard law school on her own.
Act IIa reveals the two opposing belief systems that the hero must choose from in the end. Act IIb forces the hero to choose either the self-defeating belief or the scary new belief that will lead to a better life.
Even worse, Act IIb shows the disadvantages of both the self-defeating belief and the new belief. In “Legally Blonde,” the self-defeating belief is that Elle needs a man. If this belief wins out, then Elle will leave law school, which represents a new belief in herself. If Elle pursues a new belief that she is strong enough without a man, she must prove it to herself by staying in law school. That means she must win her first court case, but there’s a huge uncertainty in her mind that she can do this.
Structure your screenplay based on the hero’s core belief and you’ll find changing this core belief can form the foundation of your entire story.