The Fourth 15 Minutes

The fourth 15 minute segment of your screenplay leads to the midpoint of your story. This is where the hero achieves a False Victory, which seems like the goal, but really isn’t.

In stage plays, there’s almost always an intermission. Theaters know that they can’t just break for an intermission anywhere or else they risk upsetting people who still want to know how the story ends. Instead, theaters know that they need to break for an intermission at the midpoint of a story, which is where the fourth 15 minute segment of your story ends.

Let’s review how the four 15 minute segments work together for now:

Act I

0-15 minutes: Introduce hero, his problem, the stagnant life he’s in, and provide a glimpse of another world.

15-30: Introduce something new to the hero’s world, the hero tries to maintain the status quo but decides to leap into another world.

30-45: Hero explores new world, meets a villain who largely ignores the hero, and achieves a minor success.

45-60: Problems arise, the hero successfully overcomes them, and achieves a False Victory.

The Inciting Incident of this fourth segment is usually a problem that threatens the hero, but the hero finds a way to overcome it and seemingly gets what he wants. In “Die Hard,” Bruce Willis defeats some of the terrorists, gets a machine gun, and manages to call the police for help. His False Victory is when he finally gets the police to notice there’s a problem. Of course, the police is a False Victory since they alone can’t solve his problems.

In “WALL-E,” the robot follows Eve to the repair depot, discovers the plant ready to be destroyed by Auto, and finally gets to dance with Eve. This is a False Victory because although WALL-E finally wins Eve’s affections, it still doesn’t solve the bigger problem of getting back home again and still having Eve’s love.

In “Star Wars,” Luke and Hans rescue Princess Leia. It’s a False Victory because although they’ve freed her, they’re still trapped on the Death Star.

False Victories end with a sense of hope and completion, and that’s why this False Victory or midpoint of a story is used as the intermission point in theater. At the False Victory, we feel like we’ve seen a complete story, but there’s still a nagging feeling that there’s more to come, but it’s not an immediate, pressing issue so we can wander off to the rest room and not feel like we’re missing anything.

Each 15 minute segment is a mini-story in itself, so make sure your fourth segment of your story leads towards a False Victory for the hero. This False Victory must seem to solve the problem, but really doesn’t. This False Victory is the hero’s high point. From here on, things go very badly for the hero, and this contrast is what makes any story compelling.

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