The Three Stages of the Hero

Your hero is always trying to solve problems, but those problems typically go through three distinct stages. First, the hero makes a decision to pursue a Symbol of Hope goal. This pursuit is usually with little consequences if he fails. Second, the hero makes a major commitment that puts him in danger. Third, the hero finally commits himself to battling the villain and stopping the villain’s goal.

The three stages of the hero’s progression generally start in the middle of Act I when the Symbol of Hope first appears. The second stage begins with the start of Act IIa. The third stage begins with the start of Act IIb and concludes with Act III.

In “Star Wars,” the Symbol of Hope occurs when Luke sees Princess Leia’s hologram and wants to know more about it. Initially, the hero may be reluctant so outside circumstances have to force him to act. In this case, R2D2 escapes and stormtroopers kill his aunt and uncle. Now he has no choice but to move to the second stage where he wants to deliver the information to Princess Leia. After getting caught by the Death Star, Luke winds up rescuing Princess Leia. After rescuing Princess Leia, he continues pursuing his original goal, which was to get the information in R2D2 to the rebels. In Act III, he finally makes a commitment to stop Darth Vader. Luke’s three stages are that he wants to find out more about Princess Leia, he wants to rescue Princess Leia, and he wants to stop Darth Vader from blowing up the rebel base.

In “Die Hard,” John McClane┬áinitially just wants to escape when the terrorists take over the building. Then his second main goal is to call for help. In the process of calling for help, he draws attention to himself and then has to fight back. Finally as he learns of the terrorist plans to blow everyone up on the roof, he has to confront and battle Hans the terrorist leader face to face. Three stages that Bruce Willis goes through are run away, defend himself, then stop the villain’s goal of blowing up the hostages on the roof.

In “Rocky,” Rocky initially just wants respect by getting to know Adrian and proving to himself that he’s not a bum. When Rocky gets a chance to fight Apollo Creed, his next step is to train for the fight. Finally when he realizes he can’t beat Apollo Creed, his final goal is to stay on his feet for the entire fight, which is something nobody has ever done before.

Your hero needs to go through three stages of seeking goals:

Middle of Act I to beginning of Act IIa: Hero pursues a small goal with limited risk and consequences.

Beginning of Act IIa to beginning of Act IIb: Hero pursues a bigger goal that involves bigger risk and consequences.

Act Iib to Act III: Hero battles to the death where he either wins or loses.

Each stage of the hero’s progression puts greater risk and responsibility on the hero. Initially, the hero only cares about himself. Then the hero cares about others. Finally in the end, the hero cares about saving someone he loves.

In “Star Wars,” Luke initially cared only about himself, then about saving Princess Leia, then finally about saving the rebel base and Princess Leia.

In “Die Hard,” John McClane initially saved himself by running away. Then he protects the SWAT team and the hostages. Finally, he rescues his wife. By the third stage, the hero is not only in a battle to the death against the villain, but he’s fighting for someone he loves. the hero gradually changes by taking the focus off his own selfish interests and using his skills to save others, which is why heroes are so memorable in movies. Heroes don’t just accomplish a great goal, but they save others unable to save themselves.

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