What makes a great story is when the hero (and the audience) changes emotionally. Of course, characters don’t change overnight but gradually, and this gradual change is what story telling is all about.
Use the four-part story structure to divide a screenplay into four Acts of roughly 30 minutes each (for a 120 minute movie). Then the hero’s emotional change looks like this:
- Act I — Hero has an emotional dream but currently lives in a dead end life often due to the hero’s own limiting belief.
- Act IIa — A mentor shows the hero how to live a better way.
- Act IIb — The hero starts tentatively acting differently and getting limited results.
- Act III — The hero finally abandons his or her limiting belief and finally changes emotionally for the better.
In “Star Wars,” this four-party story structure for emotional change looks like this:
- Act I — Luke doesn’t have confidence in himself although he years for living an adventure.
- Act IIa — After meeting Obi-wan, Luke sees the power of the Force used to get past the storm troopers and to kill two creatures in the seedy bar with a light saber.
- Act IIb — Luke takes the initiative to rescue Princess Leia.
- Act III — Luke finally trusts the Force and saves Princess Leia by blowing up the Death Star.
The general four-step process of changing emotionally is Dream-See-Do-Embrace. First the hero has a dream, second, the hero sees another way to live, third the hero tentatively starts changing, and fourth, the hero finally changes for good.
Think of how any person changes. People don’t stop being an alcoholic right away. They first have to have a desire or dream to change. Second, they need to see that it’s possible to change. Third, they need to start taking action to change. Fourth, they must finally embrace that change and abandon their old way of thinking to make the complete transformation.
What makes change so difficult is that it’s so easy not to change at each step of the way. That’s the real challenge your hero faces in any story. Every obstacle is really temptation to keep the hero from changing.
Just imagine an alcoholic wanting to change, then looking to see how to change. Finally, taking that tentative step to act differently until eventually changing completely.
Change is difficult in real life because it means giving up on an old belief and trusting that a new belief will work. That same difficulty is exactly the conflict your hero faces when changing emotionally.
Without emotional change, you literally don’t have a story to tell.