Once you know your theme, you automatically know the beginning condition of your hero and the ending condition of your hero. Then all you need to do is define what happens in between like this:
- Act I — hero represents the opposite of your theme
- Act IIa — hero learns the Mentor’s Lesson that explains how to change to embrace the theme
- Act IIb — hero recognizes his dead end life
- Act III — hero finally changes to defeat the villain by embracing the theme
“Avatar” defines a theme that all life is interconnected with nature. So in Act I, the hero is the opposite of the theme, which means he’s not only paralyzed, but completely disconnected from nature and even from the other Marines. When he first arrives on the alien planet, the other Marines laugh at him, calling him “Meals on Wheels.”
In Act IIa, he learns to merge with his avatar body and explore the alien world where they respect nature.
In Act IIb, he realizes that he’ll never change the natives and convince them to leave their Hometree so the humans can mine the minerals underneath. He also feels that the natives might actually be right and the humans might be wrong.
In Act III, the hero finally embraces the idea of merging with nature, which helps defeat the humans and help him find love while protecting the planet.
In “Liar, Liar,” the theme is about telling the truth. In Act I, the hero is a complete liar, but in Act III, he becomes the opposite and learns that telling the truth can get him what he wants. In between in Act IIa, he learns that lying is wrong, but doesn’t know how to deal with telling the truth. In Act IIb, he realizes that he needs to tell the truth and that his old way of lying will no longer work for him.
Once you know your theme, you immediately know the starting and ending point of your hero, which means you also know how your hero must change. Every story is about how your hero changes from one extreme to the other, defined by your theme. Without a theme, you don’t know how your hero must change or even where your hero needs to start in a dead end life.
Your theme is extremely important. the setting and characters can be the same, but the theme defines the story. In “Terminator 2,” the theme is that killing is wrong. Switch that theme out with “lying is wrong” and suddenly you have a completely different story. Switch in a new theme that “women live in a male-dominated world” (“Thelma and Louise”) and you get either a disjointed story or a completely different one. Your theme is extremely crucial in helping you shape your story from the start.
If you change your theme, you change your story. Make sure your story’s theme is crystal clear right from the start because then you’ll know what your story is really all about.