Your hero is on the brink of the moment of realisation.
This week we’re going to be delving into the third act of our five-act structure.
This week, your hero will have to face up to some hard truths, whether they like it or not.
This might be the most crucial section of your story. It leads to the most significant change within the hero and sets up the next half of the story.
In a couple of writing guides, this is referred to as “the mid-point”. But there’s so much more to it than that.
I refer to it as “the realisation point”, but again, that doesn’t entirely cover it. You could refer to it as “the transition point”. This is where the subplot of the first half swaps places with the main plot. Let’s look at a couple of examples.
-In Back to the Future, Marty realises that getting back to 1985 is pointless if his parents don’t get together.
-In Ghostbusters, we understand Dana Barrett’s faulty fridge may lead to the end of the world. (The heroes are not fully aware of this. But the audience gets an idea when Dana and Louise are attacked by the terror dogs).
-In Robocop, a series of dreams leads a robot to discover that he was Alex Murphy.
The realisation point is one of the most exciting sections in a story. As a writer, you can take this moment to really lay down your philosophy, tell the world what you think.
Even in your copywriting/blog posts/insta captions, this is where you tell the reader. Tell them now you understand that things need to change.
What do you think is the most essential section of a story?
The cough? It’s nothing
That cough? Just ignore it. It’ll probably go away by itself probably.
Here, right at the start of your third act, your hero can plead ignorance. In the back of their head, however, they know something’s not right. They can tell something is up, but they’re able to ignore it. They’re reluctant to face up to it.
Your hero does not want to deal with that problem. So if they ignore it, then they don’t have to deal with it, right?
Heck, we’ve all been there.
How many times have you said, “I’ll do it tomorrow”? And then tomorrow becomes tomorrow. Becomes another tomorrow until eventually, you realise there is no tomorrow.
That little pile you say you’ll deal with, but the pile grows a little each day. Or maybe you owe money to someone, and the interest is compounding. It could even be a phone call to make a doctor’s appointment. If you don’t see the doctor, then that means you’re not sick, right?
This is what your hero is going through right now. But, unfortunately, they keep putting off dealing with the problem. Even though they’re the only ones with the solution.
This early part of act three is going to make your hero look delusional.
In Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo thinks he can head back to The Shire. He just has to attend the council meeting, and he’s on his way.
In Predator, Dutch and his men think if they just keep shooting into the trees, they’ll kill whatever it is out there.
In Shadow of a Doubt, the cop tells Charlie the grim truth about her Uncle, but she does not fully accept.
The hero does not want to face the truth, and it hurts them. So they are doing everything in their power to put it off.
You feel for the hero because you like them, and you see yourself in them too.
What are you putting off?
The big moment of realisation
Here’s the big moment. New secrets will be discovered.
You and your hero are at the moment of realisation.
You’re turning the world of the story on its head for you, your hero and your audience.
The hero can no longer ignore the truth, and they must face facts.
Sometimes your hero will be smacked in the face with the realisation.
Look at Gone Girl (the movie at least). Right as we hit the realisation point, Nick opens his shed to find that he has been set up and Amy is still alive. So the plot changes from “Where is Amy?” to “She’s alive, how can I prove it?”
The hero is exposed to the realisation but does not understand the significance. At least until a little later.
In Chinatown detective, Jake Gittes becomes aware of Noah Cross, his power and meets him. It is Cross who orders the detective to “Find the girl”. Gittes and we may be unaware of it now, but this girl’s pursuit will lead to the shocking revelation. For now, all we know is the girl is important.
This isn’t just in movies. Look at the first Harry Potter book. At the moment of realisation, Harry understands. Hogwarts has been protecting the Philosopher’s Stone.
In Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo sees everyone fighting about what to do with the ring. He has a moment of realisation. He must take on the responsibility.
I like to sum up the realisation point as “We’ve cured your cough, but found cancer”. Something that we may have thought of as insignificant now takes on a new meaning.
Life is like that too, and a story reflects that. How many times has there been something you thought was insignificant. Only for it to take on a greater one down the line?
In fact, an excellent way to work out who the hero of your story is this. Find out who has the most significant/most profound realisation.
What is your hero going to realise?
Moment of realisation-Now what?
Your hero has had their moment of realisation.
They try and forge ahead as best they can. They have to make a choice to keep going.
The problem is there is part of the hero still clinging to the old world. To the old them. They’re able to do that because there is no great urgency for them to let go.
That urgency will show up soon though, don’t worry.
Look at Lord of the Rings – The Fellowship of the Ring. They have set off from Rivendell and are on their way to Mordor. Frodo is nervous about the journey ahead, but he has a fellowship to keep him company. So he is in good hands, right?
If you look at Robocop, they don’t take him offline even though he had a dream. Robocop continues to do his job.
In Ghostbusters, Peter Venkman shows up at Dana’s apartment. He has fun with the recently possessed Miss Barrett.
In Back to the Future, Marty tells his father that he should ask Lorainne like it’s that simple.
While the realisation was a big blow to your hero, they’re still reeling from the shock. They’re in denial. The ramifications are still not apparent to them. However, they have gotten through the second act with their trusty hammer. This problem is just a particularly stubborn nail.
Or so they think.
Their lowest point and the consequences of their denial is going to become apparent.
For now, though, they’re using their tried and true formula even though they will have to change it up soon.
The stakes have been raised. At the back of your hero’s head is knowing that there is something else going on. They just can’t verbalise it, they know there’s a devil. They just don’t know its name.
Your hero will have to change or die, but for now, they are going to keep on keeping on.
What is your hero ignoring?
What are you putting off that you know to be done?
New information intergration
The hero is on their quest with the new information.
It seems like the journey might still go well for them. But, little does the hero know that in their ignorance, the enemy/antagonist is gaining power.
Events are in motion that will lead to your hero having to make a series of choices in Act 4.
The descent into the dark. The increased threat. The circumstance is worsening for your hero. This is the enemy gathering power and getting ready to strike.
Your hero has had a few brushes with death, but they have pulled through. Soon they are going to learn the extent of the antagonist’s power.
Little does your hero know that they will have to descend into a literal, figurative pit. The pit will cost them in ways they were not expecting.
In Lord of The Rings Fellowship of the Ring, they have had an excellent start to the journey. They try to go over the mountain. The only problem is Saurman is keeping an eye out for them. After an avalanche almost kills them, they decide to go under the mountain, through the mines of Moria. They might be able to get through safe if they keep quiet.
In SpongeBob Squarepants the Movie, they literally descend into a pit. Spongebob and Patrick feel invincible because they’re wearing moustaches. In fact, they are helped along by the monsters of the deep who join in on their musical number.
In LaLa Land, Ryan Gosling joins John Legend’s “Sell-out” band. Emma quits her job to pursue her writing. Looking at it, this may not feel like things are getting worse. But these events will lead us to a crisis point down the line.
As you have been building your story towards the end of Act 3, everything is set up. All the ingredients of your story are in place. Now you got to pop it in the oven and see what comes out.
Like unbaked bread, you are turning the heat up on your hero. The question is, will they rise or fall?