In every story, a hero has an initial dream. In “Star Wars,” Luke wants to leave his uncle’s farm. In “WALL-E,” WALL-E wants to find love. In “Big,” the hero wants to be big, essentially change from being a boy and change into a man. Once you know your hero’s initial dream with absolutely clarity, you now know how to end Act I (the first 30 minutes of your story) by putting the hero’s initial dream almost within reach.
In “Star Wars,” Luke’s initial dream is to leave his uncle’s farm. By the end of Act I, Obi-wan invites him to come along to bring R2D2 to Princess Leia. Suddenly Luke’s initial dream is within reach.
In “WALL-E,” WALL-E’s initial dream is to find love. But he end of Act I, he’s met Eve, gained her trust, and brought her back to his home where he attempts to impress her by showing her his collection. He now seems on the verge of having Eve fall in love with him.
In “Big,” the hero’s dream is to become big. By the end of Act I, he suddenly finds himself changed from a boy into a man.
The hero’s initial dream is crucial for plotting Act I of your story. You know at the beginning the hero must have an initial dream and be surrounded in an environment that makes this initial dream seem impossible. Then something happens that brings the hero within reach of this initial dream by the end of Act I.
Identify the initial dream of any hero and you’ll see that he or she almost achieves this initial dream by the end of Act I:
- “Star Wars” – Luke wants to leave his uncle’s farm. By the end of Act I, he leaves his uncle’s farm to go with Obi-wan
- “WALL-E” – WALL-E wants to find love. By the end of Act I, he’s on the verge of getting Eve to fall in love with him
- “Big” – The hero wants to be big. By the end of Act I, he’s magically transformed into a man
The initial dream can never be achieved until the end of the story. What keeps the hero from achieving the initial dream by the end of Act I is the villain. Ironically, the villain can also provides motivation for the hero to leave his or her old way of life.
In “Star Wars,” Luke wants to leave his uncle’s farm to go with Obi-wan, but refuses. Then Darth Vader’s storm troopers kill his aunt and uncle, leaving Luke no choice but to go with Obi-wan.
In “WALL-E,” WALL-E keeps trying to impress Eve. When he shows her the plant, Eve suddenly grabs it and shuts down. Although WALL-E doesn’t know this, the villain’s directive has shut Eve down, keeping WALL-E from getting Eve to fall in love with him.
In “Big,” the hero is a boy who wants to be big. Through a magic fortune teller machine, he wakes up one day to find that he’s big. However, his initial dream runs into problems when his own mother doesn’t recognize him and he has to run away from home.
Before you start writing, clarify your hero’s initial dream. Once you know what your hero wants, you can structure your story so your hero either gets the initial dream in the end or fails for good. Then you’ll also know how to end Act I by putting the hero’s initial dream within reach, then yanking it away due to the villain.
Stories are more than just dialogue and people moving around. Stories are structured a specific way and if you follow the same structure, you’ll greatly improve your own story’s chance of being appealing and interesting.