Watch good movies and you’ll notice they often have one common element: the hero deceives others. Remember, a story is about a hero who changes. That means the hero goes through four main stages that correspond to each Act:
- Act I — The hero is stuck in a dead end life
- Act IIa — The hero still embraces the habits of the past while learning a new way of living
- Act IIb — The hero discovers he or she can’t maintain two separate lives
- Act III — The hero finally embraces the new way of life
In Act I, the hero is one type of person and in Act III, the hero is often the opposite type of person. In “Liar Liar,” the hero is a lying lawyer in Act I. By Act III, the hero learns that telling the truth is better.
What happens in Act IIa/IIb is that the hero must straddle between the old way of life and the new way of life. That often means deceiving others by trying to live two separate lives.
In “Tootsie,” the hero dresses up as a woman and deceives everyone that he’s really a woman. In Act IIa, this works as the hero becomes a star but in Act IIb, the hero realizes that he can’t maintain this deception because it’s keeping him from falling in love with his co-star.
In “Legally Blonde,” the hero is a smart blonde but she thinks she needs a man to be complete. In Act IIa, she tries to act like she belongs in law school but everyone treats her like a dumb blonde. In Act IIb, she starts to fit in to law school only to discover that her law professor thinks of her as a dumb blonde. In Act III, she finally embraces both being a blonde and being a smart law school student.
Deception is obvious in “Tootsie” but not as blatant in other movies like “Die Hard,” but even in “Die Hard,” the hero is deceiving the villain about who he is. However, the real deception isn’t between the hero and the outside world but between the hero and him/herself.
The hero really needs to overcome this dichotomy in his or her life. In “Legally Blonde,” the hero didn’t abandon her dumb blond persona but embraced it along with her law school success. So the hero is really trying to decide who she is. Is she just going to be a dumb blonde in everyone’s eyes or is she going to be a strong woman who can embrace and cherish her Valley Girl background?
This dilemma between the hero is what really makes an interesting story, not any physical action. Watching a hero struggle to change is what stories are all about.
When writing your own screenplay, decide how your hero can deceive the world, but remember, your hero is really deceiving him/herself. How your hero manages to finally embrace a new way to live is what makes your story emotionally satisfying.