Apparent Defeat, John Truby, The Anatomy of Story, p.294–295
During the drive, the hero is losing to the opponent. About two-thirds to three-quarters of the way of the story, the hero suffers an apparent defeat. He believes he has lost the goal and his opponent has won. This is the hero’s lowest point.
The apparent defeat provides an important punctuation to the overall structure of any story because it is the moment when the hero hits bottom. It also increases the drama by forcing him to come back from defeat to win at the end. Just as any sporting event is more exciting when the losing home team comes back to win, so is a story when a hero the audience loves battles back from what seems like certain defeat.
KEY POINT: The apparent defeat is not a small or temporary setback. It should be an explosive, devastating moment for the hero. The audience must really feel that the hero is finished.
KEY POINT: You want only one apparent defeat. Although the hero can and should have many setbacks, he should have only one moment that clearly seems to be the end. Otherwise, the story will lack shape and dramatic power. To see the difference, think of a car barreling down a hill and either going over two or three nasty bumps or smashing into a brick wall.
Rick’s apparent defeat occurs fairly early in the drive when Ilsa visits him after the bar closes for the night. Drunk, he remembers their romance in Paris, and the terrible ending when she failed to show up for the train. When she tries to explain what happened, he bitterly attacks her and drives her away.
George tells Michael there is no way Michael can break his contract with the soap opera. He must continue to live this nightmare as a woman.
In stories where the hero ends in greater slavery or death, this step is an apparent victory. The hero reaches the height of success or power, but everything goes downhill from here. This is also the moment when the hero often enters a subworld of temporary freedom (see Chapter 6, “Story World). An example of a story with an apparent victory is Goodfellas, when the characters pull off the Lufthansa heist. They think they have made the score of a lifetime. In fact, this success begins a process that will end in the death and destruction of them all.