Change Your Hero in Each Act

The best part about any story is when the hero changes into a better person. To highlight that change, make sure the hero changes in a noticeable way in each Act of your screenplay. If you divide your screenplay into four Acts of 30 minutes each, you get the following structure:

  • Act I — Introduce the hero’s dead end life and dream
  • Act IIa — The hero enters a new world and learns about the story’s theme
  • Act IIb — The hero becomes more proactive
  • Act III — The hero must change to defeat the villain

In Act I, your hero must start in a dead end life. Then in Act III, we must see how the hero has changed for the better, usually by living the opposite of where he or she began. For example, in romantic comedies, the hero begins Act I lonely and single. By Act III, the hero has found true love and is happy.

While it’s easy to see how the hero can dramatically change in a romantic comedy, it also applies when the hero changes in any story. In a horror film like “Don’t Breathe,” the hero is a burglar with her two friends, but she wants to protect her little sister from her less than ideal mother. In Act I of “Don’t Breathe,” the hero is a thief and wants to give her little sister a better life. By Act III, the hero likely will never be a thief again and has found a way to give her little sister a better life.

In an action story like “Die Hard,” the hero changes from an arrogant man to a more humble one who admits that it’s his fault he and his wife are not together. In Act I, he’s still the same arrogant but nice buy. By Act III, he’s changed to understand his own role in breaking up his marriage.

In every story, there must be at least one major scene that highlights the hero’s change:

  • Act I — The hero has an initial problem that’s clearly visible to the audience
  • Act IIa — The hero takes action to achieve his or her dream
  • Act IIb — The hero takes charge of his or her own destiny
  • Act III — The hero remembers something from the mentor to help change into a better person

Think of “The Karate Kid” where in Act I, the hero is clearly bullied. In Act IIa, the hero fights back against the bullies, but winds up getting nearly beaten to a pulp as a result. In Act IIb, the hero diligently practices the martial arts to prepare for a tournament. In Act III, the hero remembers a unique fighting style to help defeat the villain. Think of the four changes of your hero like this:

  • Act I — Show the hero emotionally downtrodden but with a goal
  • Act IIa — Show the hero taking action towards a goal
  • Act IIb — Show the hero being more responsible for his or her future
  • Act III — Show the hero embracing the story theme to defeat the villain

Plot the four major changes of your hero and you’ll be a long way towards creating an emotionally engaging story no matter what genre your screenplay may be targeting.

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