In the Beginning

In the beginning of every story, the audience must know what the hero wants. Typically in the first fifteen minutes we learn what the hero wants.┬áIn some stories, the hero wants something he lost. In “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome,” the hero loses all of his possessions and wants to get them back. In most stories, the hero wants something better than what he or she currently has. In romantic comedies, the hero typically is single and lonely, and wants to find true love. In “Star Wars,” Luke simply wants to get off his boring planet.

It’s crucial to know what the hero wants because that drives the entire story. From that point on, everything the hero does must bring the hero closer to achieving that initial goal. In “Django: Unchained,” the hero wants to get back with his wife, so everything in the story leads to that goal.

Once you clearly identify the hero’s goal in the beginning, then you must delay that goal until the end. Essentially Act I defines the hero’s goal and Act III answers whether the hero gets that goal or not. Good movies answer that goal. Bad movies forget about that goal and thus the ending doesn’t match the beginning.

Besides having Act I define the hero’s goal, Act I must also define the villain’s goal, often in a mystery. The villain’s goal often has nothing to do with the hero’s goal except that whatever goal the villain pursues, it must interfere with the hero’s goal.

In “Star Wars,” Darth Vader has no idea Luke even exists while he’s looking for the stolen Death Star plans so he can use the Death Star to blow up the rebel base. In the process of looking for the Death Star plans, Darth Vader’s actions keep making life harder for Luke to achieve his dream, which is to get off his planet.

  • Darth Vader inadvertently forces R2D2 into Luke’s life, which causes problems when R2D2 runs away
  • Darth Vader’s stormtroopers block the perimeter around the spaceport to keep Luke from finding a starship to hire
  • Stormtroopers try to shoot Luke as he boards the Millennium Falcon to escape
  • TIE fighters try to shoot the Millennium Falcon before it goes into hyperspace

The beginning of every story needs to define the hero’s goal (and the hero’s weakness) along with a hint of the villain’s goal (and the villain’s power).

The hero’s weakness is what keeps him or her stuck in a dead end life. By Act III, we finally get to see the hero achieve (or fail to achieve) the initial goal and we get to see the hero change (or fail to change) from his or her weakness.

In the beginning, we learn of the villain’s goal although we may not fully understand it. However, we do get to see the villain’s power and that shows what the hero is up against, typically at a huge disadvantage. By Act III, we finally understand the villain’s complete goal and we get to see the villain use his or her power to attack the hero.

So the beginning clearly sets up the story at the end. If you don’t know your beginning, you’ll never know the end. If you don’t know the end, you’ll never know how to begin. Make sure you know the beginning of your story and how it explains the following:

  • The hero’s goal
  • The hero’s weakness
  • A hint of the villain’s goal
  • A hint of the villain’s power

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