Act I poses a question that finally gets answered in Act III. In romantic comedies, Act I poses the question on whether the hero will ever find love. Then Act III answers that question by showing how the hero eventually finds love.
In “Die Hard,” the initial question is whether the hero will get back together with his wife or not. By the end, the hero gets back with his wife.
In “Babe,” the initial question is whether the hero (a pig) will be killed and turned into meat. By the end, the hero is no longer in danger of being killed and turned into food.
In “Up,” the initial question is whether the hero will get over the loss of his wife. By the end, the hero finally gets over the loss of his wife.
Act I always creates an initial dream fro the hero to pursue. However, the hero has no way of achieving this dream until the villain intrudes into the hero’s life by sending a Symbol of Hope. This Symbol of Hope gives the hero a concrete path to achieving his or her initial dream.
In Act IIa, the hero enters a strange new world to achieve this Symbol of Hope. By the end of Act IIa, the hero has achieved a goal related to the Symbol of Hope. However, this achievement doesn’t completely solve the hero’s problems because the villain still exists.
In Act IIb, the villain constantly threatens the hero’s Symbol of Hope. By the end of Act IIb, the villain has nearly wrecked the hero’s life by killing the hero’s initial dream completely.
In “Die Hard,” the end of Act IIb occurs when the villain cripples the hero by shooting glass so it embeds in the hero’s feet. Even worse, the villain has finally learned the identity of the hero’s wife and is holding her hostage. The end of Act IIb is where the villain looks like he or she will win after all and the hero will lose completely.
Then in Act III, the hero must finally change. The beginning of Act III is where the hero finally admits his or her flaws. This commonly involves the hero finally recognizing and acknowledging an unpleasant truth about him or herself, which will allow the hero to become a better person.
Throughout the story, the hero has been embracing a lie of some kind and finally realizes that he or she can no longer live any more by lying to him or herself. The hero must hit a Rock Bottom moment where life looks totally hopeless because this provides motivation to finally see the truth about him or herself that needs to change.
Once the hero Faces Facts about him or herself, the mentor immediately inspires the hero to act once more. Now the hero starts to change by making the obvious decision to head straight into the villain’s stronghold.
Initially, the hero defeats the villain’s henchmen until the main henchman nears defeats the hero. The hero uses his or her skill to finally overcome this main henchman and finally confront the villain.
At first, the hero appears to win against the villain. Then the villain cheats or uses an unfair advantage to nearly wipe out the hero for good. At this low moment when all appears lost, the hero suddenly remembers the mentor’s lesson. By embracing this mentor’s lesson, the hero changes into a better person and can finally defeat the villain.
Act III is where the villain threatens to destroy the hero’s Symbol of Hope for good. In romantic comedies, Act III is where the hero’s true love will leave forever or marry someone else. In other types of stories, Act III is where the villain threatens to wipe out the Symbol of Hope forever.
In “Star Wars,” Darth Vader threatens to kill Princess Leia (Luke’s Symbol of Hope).
In “Die Hard,” Hans the terrorist leader threatens to kill the hero’s wife.
In “Room,” the villain has imprisoned the hero in a garden shed for seven years. Now in Act III, the hero must finally free herself from the trauma of her imprisonment and embrace life one more (her Symbol of Hope). If she fails, then she risks letting the villain destroy the rest of her life forever.
In Act III, the Symbol of Hope that initially motivated the hero in Act I to achieve a goal must either be achieved or lost forever. That’s what makes Act III so crucial because this is the moment when the hero either saves the Symbol of Hope for good or loses it forever. Act III absolutely must have this either-or moment that forces the hero to defeat the villain.
If the hero defeats the villain, the hero saves the Symbol of Hope. If the hero fails to defeat the villain, the Symbol of Hope will be lost forever. By saving the Symbol of Hope, the hero will also achieve his or her initial dream and answer the question posed in Act I.
In Act III, make sure the Symbol of Hope is either won or lost forever. Act III is the last chance to save the Symbol of Hope and that’s what makes the ending of great stories so powerful.