In every movie, the hero is initially stuck in a dead end life but clings to a dream. Then the hero enters a new world where his or her dream finally seems to be coming true. Unfortunately, there’s always a huge catch.
In “Tootsie,” the hero is determined to show the world that he’s such a great actor that he can impersonate a woman and still land a role as an actress in a soap opera. He succeeds, but the catch is that he’s now falling in love with his co-star who doesn’t know he’s really a man.
In “Promising Young Woman,” the hero is trying to get back at men for taking advantage of women. When the hero finally meets a man she likes, the catch is that she can’t be happy knowing that her best friend’s rapist is going to get away with his crime.
In “Soul,” the hero has finally achieved his dream to play as a professional jazz musician with a noted artist. The catch is that he steps into an open manhole cover and dies.
In Act I, the hero is stuck in a dead end life but has a dream. In Act IIa, the hero seems to achieve his or her dream, but there’s a catch that keeps this from becoming a total victory.
Then in Act IIb, the hero is in danger of not only losing his or her dream, but of losing everything he or she had in the beginning. In other words, the hero is in danger of losing everything so life threatens to become even worse than before.
Finally in Act III, the hero abandons the old way of life, embraces the new, and is able to finally achieve the initial dream that he or she achieved in Act IIa, but without the catch.
In “Miss Congeniality,” the hero is a tomboy who needs to learn to become a woman. In Act IIa, she’s taught to become more lady like so she can infiltrate a beauty pageant and act like a contestant. Now she appears to have everything she wanted.
Then in Act IIb, she’s not only pulled from the beauty pageant (losing what she gained in Act IIa), but her job as an FBI agent is also in jeopardy (potentially losing what she had in Act I).
The ironic catch that keeps the hero from achieving his or her dream is not being able to let go of the past. In other words, the hero’s own personality from the past is what keeps the dream away.
In “Star Wars,” Lukę appears to be living the adventure he always wanted by tagging along with Obi-wan to look for a pilot and escape his planet. The catch is that Luke still hasn’t learned to trust himself.
The catch is the past the hero needs to shed. In “Tootsie,” the hero’s past is that he treats women poorly. Now that he’s disguised as a woman, he’s unable to start a romantic relationship with his co-star until he learns to treat women right as a man.
There’s always a catch in every Act IIa and that catch is about the hero still clinging to the past. Since stories are about change, keep your hero clinging to the past and that will keep him or her from achieving a dream until the very end.