The 22 step system is the idea that films go through 22 steps, with 7 of them being vital to all film. Created by John Truby, a scriptwriter who has consulted on over 1,000 scripts in the past 30 years and has taught students who have gone on to write films such as Shrek and Scream, the 22 step system is found in nearly every film to date. When analysing these steps i will be using Christopher Nolan’s: The Dark Knight Trilogy as my example.
The 7 vital steps are:
Weakness or need:
an obstacle for a character to overcome. During The Dark Knight Rises Bruce Wayne must over come his injuries and ignorance to defeat bane.
This is what drives a character to do what they do. During Batman Begins, Bruce Waynes desire is to bring justice to gotham city, to become a symbol of hope.
The synergy between opposing characters is what makes a good film great. The Dark Knight is often seen as the best film in the trilogy, the reason being the relationship between Batman and The Joker. The two character have as many similarities as they do differences and the joker, unlike batman’s previous foes, thrives on fear and chaos.
This is a plan to over come the initial problem, weakness or antagonist, often an initial plan will fail during the first act. During The Dark Knight Rises, Batmans initial plan was to take bane on one on one, showing his ignorance, this lead to batman being put out of action until the final act.
This often takes place in the final act of a film. the battle can be a physical one with the main antagonist, or a metaphorical one with an issue such as going cold turkey to fight an addiction. In the final scenes of The Dark Knight Rises, Batman leads an army of gothams finest in an epic battle with Banes Army.
This is a personal realisation, often it happens after a weakness or issue is overcome. In the final scene of The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne realises Gotham doesn’t need the Batman anymore, and sacrifices his reputation in order to keep Harvey Dents alive.
This is when the protagonist reaches a new situation on their journey, often how films end. In the final scene of The Dark Knight Rises, Bruce Wayne fakes his and Batmans death in order to save Gotham city and continue his life in peace.
The full 22 steps are as followed (no order):
- Self-revelation, need, and desire
This gives the story and character direction
- Ghost and story world
This is often an event from the protagonists past which affects them in the present. The story world is the norm of the main protagonists, his/her family or friends, jobs, hobbies etc.
- Weakness and need
The weakness is a difficulty or problem that the protagonist must over come. The need is what drives the protagonist and is often the protagonist main goal.
- Inciting event
The inciting event often occurs at the start of the second act. This event will usually break the protagonists story world and will start their journey to fix it.
This is what drives the story and the main protagonist. Often the antagonist will have there own desires which drives them.
- Ally or allies
An ally often is used to give a character more depth. An ally could be a variety of characters, but most commonly will be a friend, family member, mentor or love interest.
- Opponent and/or mystery
The opponent ties in to a lot of the other steps, often getting in the way of a desire or targeting the protagonists weakness. in the event of a film not having an opponent (for example a detective story) a mystery will take its place.
- Fake-ally opponent
A fake ally is a story telling device used. often a film will build on the relationship of the fake ally and the protagonist during the first act before the revelation of the allies true motives creates a turning point in the second act.
- First revelation and decision: Changed desire and motive
This often occurs at the end of the first act, bringing in the second act. often the main protagonist will make a decision or gain some information which changes the protagonists direction.
The plan is how the protagonist intends to fulfil there desire. More than often the plan will not work out due to an unseen flaw/circumstance or the antagonists actions.
- Opponent’s plan and main counterattack
This is the same as the plan for the protagonists however the antagonist plan will usually work initially until the protagonist can overcome it in the final act.
The drive is the steps the protagonist takes in order to achieve his goal/desire.
- Attack by ally
In the event of a protagonist losing direction or there motives changing for the worst, an ally may step in to straighten to protagonist out and get him back on the right course.
- Apparent defeat
This is when the protagonist believes they have lost and there desire can no longer be achieved, in order for a comeback to be effective, the protagonist must hit rock bottom.
- Second revelation and decision: Obsessive drive, changed desire and motive
a second revelation will often spark a protagonist into making a comeback after hitting rock bottom, this revelation can come in the form of new information, idea or a personal revelation.
- Audience revelation
This is when the audience is given a piece of information that the protagonist does not have, often this will be the antagonists plan.
- Third revelation and decision
This will be the final plot twist before the final battle, often this revelation is the protagonist acquiring the means to overcome and defeat the antagonist.
- Gate, gauntlet, visit to death
this will often be a sacrifice the protagonist has to make in order to achieve there desire. this can come in the form of a death of an ally, or a decision.
A film can have multiple battles, but often a larger battle will end a film. This is a battle between the protagonist and antagonist to see who is better. in the case of a mystery the battle maybe a final obstacle to get past before the mystery can be solved.
The protagonist learns from the mistakes they have made on there journey to achieve there desires and is better because of it.
- Moral decision
This is a decision made often after a revelation. a moral decision is often a choice between doing what is right and what is best for themselves.
- New equilibrium
This is the telling of the protagonists new story world after the events of the movie.
Not all steps can be found in all films. it is rare to find a film without the 7 vital steps, often a film will use a minimum of 12 steps.