Pause any good movie near the middle of its running time and that’s where you can find the False Victory. This is the point where the hero achieves a major victory that seems important, but still fails to solve the real problem. More importantly, the False Victory is set up at the end of the first 15 minutes by a Symbol of Hope, which is introduced somehow by the villain.
In “Star Wars,” the Symbol of Hope appears to Luke around the 15 minute mark when he sees Princess Leia’s hologram. This gives Luke a goal to pursue until he eventually gets to physically reduce Princess Leia from the Death Star. That rescue is Luke’s False Victory at the midpoint of the movie.
In “Room,” the Symbol of Hope appears when the hero, a woman trapped in a room for 7 years with her 5 year old son, spots a mouse on the floor. This mouse leads the hero’s son to question where it came from until he realizes that there’s actually a world out there beyond the tiny room that he and the hero are trapped in. The False Victory occurs when the hero uses her son to escape from the room, yet this escape is just the beginning of her problems.
In “10 Cloverfield Lane,” the hero’s Symbol of Hope appears when she learns about the door leading to the outside. Her False Victory occurs when she has a chance to open this door and sees a terrified woman on the other side, screaming to get in. That’s when the hero realizes that just finding the door to the outside isn’t the whole answer.
The general flow of any story works like this:
- The villain directly or indirectly creates an incident that gets the story started
- The villain somehow introduces a Symbol of Hope for the hero to pursue
- The hero pursues this Symbol of Hope and achieves a False Victory as a result
- While protecting this Symbol of Hope, the hero nearly gets defeated
- The hero must now confront the villain to win once and for all
In “Room,” this story flow works like this:
- The villain has locked a woman and her 5-year old son in a room where the woman is celebrating her son’s 5th birthday
- A mouse sneaks into the room and leads the 5-year old son to question where it came from
- The hero uses her son’s curiosity about the world to sneak out and get the police to rescue her from the room that’s her dungeon
- Now that she’s free, the hero experiences guilt over keeping her son trapped with her all this time
- With her son’s help, the hero goes back to look at the room so she can say good-bye and move on with the rest of her life
In “Star Wars,” this story flow works like this:
- Darth Vader captures Princess Leia, who sends R2D2 away on a mission
- Luke accidentally sees the hologram of Princess Leia
- Luke rescues Princess Leia on the Death Star
- Even though Luke has rescued Princess Leia from the Death Star, it’s still on its way to destroy the rebel base
- Luke must destroy the Death Star before it can destroy the rebel base and kill Princess Leia
In “10 Cloverfield Lane,” this story flow works like this:
- The villain crashes into the hero’s car
- The hero wakes up in a shelter and learns about the door leading out
- The hero schemes to get away and reach the door, only to find a terrified woman on the outside trying to get in
- The hero decides to stay in the shelter until she learns that the villain held another woman captive down there
- The hero must defeat the villain and escape once and for all
When outlining your story, use the False Victory at the midpoint and the Symbol of Hope at the 15 minute mark to help guide the structure of your screenplay. To convince yourself that this structure works, analyze your favorite movies and notice at the 15 minute mark what happens to create a Symbol of Hope and how a False Victory occurs at the halfway (60 minute) mark.