The Triangle of Conflict

Your hero and your villain need a goal. Your villain’s goal gets the story started. Your hero’s goal determines the final conflict.

Every story needs two main goals. Your villain has a goal and your hero has a goal. Initially, your villain is oblivious to your hero’s existence. Gradually your hero’s goal and the villain’s goal get closer and closer until they cross paths.

The point of conflict is what Act III is all about. Act I introduces the hero and the villain while Act II prepares us for battle. Act III is usually nothing but action.

In “Avatar,” Act III is when the corporation sends in the military to attack the natives. In “Star Wars,” this is where the rebels attack the Death Star. In “The Matrix,” this is where Neo battles Agent Smith. Act III is basically what your movie is all about.

“Rocky” is about a boxer fighting for the championship of the world. That’s Act III. “Avatar” is about native people defending their planet. Once again, that’s Act III. “The Incredibles” is about a family of super heroes saving the world. Act III again.

In “Die Hard,” the hero and villain don’t really know each other. As the story progresses, they gradually get to know more about each other. Bruce Willis gradually learns who the terrorists are and what their names are. Hans the lead terrorist gradually learns who Bruce Willis is and who he knows. Finally in Act III, they do battle.

In “Star Wars,” Luke and Darth Vader don’t really know each other, but as the story progresses, their paths keep crossing and they keep getting closer and closer. This gradually merging of the hero and the villain into an inevitable collision helps create suspense and prepares us for the inevitable clash for Act III.

When creating your story, think of this triangle of your hero and your villain’s goals gradually coming to a single point where only one of them can possibly win. By gradually showing the hero and villain getting closer and more involved with each other, you crease suspense and set up the final battle. By the time Act III comes around, we’re itching for a fight, and Act III should satisfy that itch.

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