Updated: Jun 21, 2019
ACT 1. FIRE. BIRTH:
All three steps in the first act have the quality of fire associated with them: the birth of a hero, the birth of a wish of the heart, and the birth of an idea of a new journey when exploration really begins. You can see the whole outline here.
Hero’s Transformation Step by Step:
Exposition: WARRIOR-->FOOL STEP (First 10-12 minutes)
(Exposition of a wound-ego/ The trickster is asking a hero: 'Who do you want to be?)
The Warrior/Hero archetype is all about being born, having the power to stand up and say, “I am who I am,” and seeing oneself ‘naked’ for the first time, even just seeing oneself for the first time after a long time, and just saying, “oh, that’s me – I am unique, no one in this world is like me, I have to honor that, I have to protect myself, including the wounds I have.” When the Hero realizes his identity, it spark his power so much that he can become the embodiment of this life force that he represents. Pure raw power. And that’s all good and needed, the only problem is that the Hero is not alone. He is in this world full of other people, who also have their own identities and their own boundaries. And as soon as the Hero starts to use what he knows best, he starts to bounce off others, and this is when the problem and the story begin.
Usually for this stage or step, the Writer’s journey suggests that the Hero comes from an ordinary world, but honestly, I think that the world we all come from, just before the journey begins, is far from ordinary.
We aim for peace and innocence (Innocent archetype), but we always start from some kind of tug of war that goes on inside of us and usually it is projected into the outside world. When the ego is strongest and the Hero doesn’t want to let go, but life is so painful that he just has to, that is the moment when change is actually possible; it is a pure potentiality that we have at the beginning of the story.
That’s why the exposition for me is about the warrior within us.
The hero has a problem; it is not about “you or me,” it is about “you and me,” but he just doesn’t know how to solve this puzzle yet.
What the Hero knows at this stage is just first conciseness out of twelve archetypes, power just isn’t enough. You can put up boundaries all around yourself, you can even conquer whomever you were fighting with, but are you going to be happy, all alone?
Even if I forgot everything I’ve known up until now about the exposition of a character, I would say from using the wheel that what we need to see in the very beginning of a movie is actually a “list” of wounds, where the ego is really not letting go, so that the character can feel rage or resentment…
We can also have a list of conflicts: everything that didn’t work out for our character on the inside and in the outside world up until now. Blake Snyder says for this part we need a list of six things that need fixing. Wounds and conflicts are really just psychological damage; they are the reason we ended up in that “war” to begin with. Therefore, this is probably something that is really deep down inside of us and is connected with the first unresolved conflict we had (family). But also, since we are still in that initial war, or situations that are quite similar to it, because, in fact, we always are, those wounds just aren’t able to heal.
Wounds are always connected with fear – so think about what your Hero’s biggest fear is.
You can also think about the opponent or antagonist, because this is the very person your Hero was or is on a battlefield with, and maybe the score is even for now. Who is going to win in these final hours? These final hours are our film. Remember both mothers in Fish Tank and The Piano Teacher, for example.
What you also need for your Hero to establish himself as a hero is the opposition on the wheel. Establishing himself means as someone who has that something special within himself to “win,” but to win in the sense of going on a journey, not to really win, because getting the ticket is enough.
You’ve already seen me write about the oppositions and how they are crucial for storytelling.
The opposition for the Hero is Fool, and you want to think of that opposition in this sense: What you need for the Warrior to establish himself is the Fool within him. And for structural purposes, the Warrior archetype is your main position, while the Fool is a projection at this point.
The first 10-12 minutes of the film is about this Warrior-Fool archetype opposition.
That means that the exposition is also about being totally unaware of what’s in front of you. The Fool is playful, the Fool is curious, the Fool is learning all the time… he thinks fast, he is collecting and processing information at the same time. It is the only archetype that can communicate with light forces, but also with dark ones. Imagine a messenger of the heart – this is the Fool. He is fluid, he is fast, he talks a lot, he can’t be alone, he is exactly that bridge archetype that can bring us somewhere we maybe even didn’t want to go to initially.
Fool is a Trickster, known by his ability to change faces and ask: Who do you want to be, now is the time to decide. Doctor Jekyll or Mr Hyde?
Because the Warrior is stubborn, sometimes all he can see is rage or the reason to stay in war, and yes, he is brave but sometimes stupid. He cannot see what is around the corner, he is far from perfect, and he is rude, even egotistical. These are rules of his world, this is the way he was taught to win!!! SHOW THIS! Make your scenes about this!
(And have in mind that female heroes also have an ego – when I talk about the Hero, gender is irrelevant)!
The Fool, on the other hand, is far from stupid, the Fool within us can scan his options and maybe even cheat, maybe even pretend, he can sweet talk someone instead fighting, but what’s sure is he will survive, he will adapt, he will change his face if is necessary.
And this is exactly what we need for our hero at the very beginning of our stories, the ability to transform – to show that he can survive – to show that part of him that can still lighten up – that can still see life from a different perspective and eventually as a playground.
A movie or a journey is not just about the fight, it’s much more about letting go.
The hero is learning what he is capable of. Being a real hero is something completely different than just always being under the stress of fighting for pure survival. It’s really about enjoying life as it is. And survival and enjoyment are different for all of us: some characters fight with their moms (The Piano Teacher), some with their spouse (Duel), some don’t have money (Sunset Boulevard), some live in outrageous circumstances (Kapernaum), some can’t stand their position in the world (Persona), some can’t stand the Matrix, and because of that they are full of wounds. Some lack love, some are too young to fight, some lose their voice, some are desperate… you see what I mean –
- our ordinary world is usually our personal hell.
What can get us out of that hell is the projection of enjoyment (Fool) that can also be different for everyone, as you know. Some feel good when they drive fast, some when they have sex, some when they have a pool, some when they go to an amusement park. The step of the Fool is not our final destination, it’s not even our wish, that comes later with the Creator (Inciting Incident), but it is that part within us that is still alive and that can remind us that life is not over yet.
What is also important to say is that this is probably the most difficult part to write. The end is difficult, the whole part before the last act turning point, as well, but you know, without really knowing your story well, and your structure, you just can’t write the exposition well enough to serve you down the road. The first ten pages are also your ticket for someone to continue reading the script. I suggest you stay on this part as long as you feel you need to, but also always return to rewrite it.
Next time I will analyze some expositions and go through scene by scene to see why they are built the way they are.
Let me now conclude with something I already mentioned – the Hero is not about winning. The Warrior or Hero are never winners in the Hero’s journey, it is only when you stop fighting that you win.
Do you remember that beautiful quote from Andrei Tarkovsky (Stalker), it reminds me of the Hero archetype:
“Let everything that's been planned come true. Let them believe. And let them have a laugh at their passions. Because what they call passion actually is not some emotional energy, but just the friction between their souls and the outside world. And most important, let them believe in themselves. Let them be helpless like children, because weakness is a great thing, and strength is nothing. When a man is just born, he is weak and flexible. When he dies, he is hard and insensitive. When a tree is growing, it's tender and pliant. But when it's dry and hard, it dies. Hardness and strength are death's companions. Pliancy and weakness are expressions of the freshness of being. Because what has hardened will never win.” ― Andrei Tarkovsky
Homework for this week:
Define your Hero’s wound (psychological damage): you want your Hero to recover from it.
Define the wound he is causing others: you want him to become better than that.
Define his weaknesses or fear: you want your Hero to outgrow them.
Define the conflict: you want your Hero to overcome it.
Define the Antagonist: you want your Hero to win.