The Four Part Story Structure of the Hero

Every story needs a hero. In novels, you can have multiple heroes but in movies, you need one hero but you can have multiple characters with goals of their own.

In “Avengers: Endgame,” the main hero is Ironman, but the other main characters are the Hulk, Black Widow, Hawkeye, and Captain America. Yet the real story is about Ironman.

Once you have a single, central character as your hero, the next step is to divide your story into four Acts:

  • Act I — The hero is stuck in a dead end life.
  • Act IIa — The hero enters a new world.
  • Act IIb — The hero makes an initial attack against the villain.
  • Act III — The hero confronts the villain.

In “The Firm,” a lawyer is hired into a law firm that’s run by the Mafia. His ultimate goal is to take down the Mafia with the help of the FBI so the four Act structure of the hero’s story looks like this:

  • Act I — The hero has been hired by a law firm and he has to work extraordinarily long hours.
  • Act IIa — The hero learns suspicious activity in the law firm.
  • Act IIb — The hero starts cooperating with the FBI to get evidence against the law firm.
  • Act III — The hero helps the FBI take down the law firm and the Mafia family that’s supporting them.

By outlining the basic structure of your hero’s story, you can get the main plot of your overall story. In “Die Hard,” the four Act structure looks like this:

  • Act I — The hero wants to get back with his wife.
  • Act IIa — The hero is forced to flee, barefoot, and hide in a skyscraper alone.
  • Act IIb — The hero helps rescue the SWAT team.
  • Act III — The hero kills the villain and gets back with his wife.

Act I is where the hero starts and defines the initial question that absolutely must be answered in the end. In “Die Hard,” that initial question is whether the hero will get back with his wife or not. By Act III, this initial question is answered because the hero does get back with his wife.

Act IIa is where the hero enters a new world and learns the rules of this new world. Act IIb is where the hero starts attacking the villain directly. This is where the hero succeeds but nearly fails in the end.

In “Die Hard,” Act IIb is where the hero rescues the SWAT team, foiling the villain. However, the villain then cripples the hero and finally learns about the hero’s wife.

Act III not only answers the initial question from Act I but also sets up the final battle between the hero and the villain.

Just briefly outline what happens in each Act for your hero and you’ll go a long way towards defining the structure of your story.

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