In A Heartbeat – Short Structure

First. Watch the short. It’s about 4 minutes. Just be surprised and entertained. Observe how it makes you feel and keep asking yourself ‘why’ do I feel this way? What did they do that caused me to experience this feeling? 

And if you like it — try to figure out where the beats are. 

Then come back and read this structure breakdown. After reading this, go back and watch the short again, but this time pay attention to the beats. 


In A Heartbeat– the title tells us what this is about. It has layers — it’s a familiar saying, we know life changes in a heartbeat, (as does the protagonist’s) and in this case, Heart is a character, and a heartbeat is powerful. It brings life. It brings love. It unites. A title with many layers!

Protagonist: the redhead, we’ll call him Red

Antagonist: the heart (antagonists are necessarily bad, but they stand in our hero’s way and cause conflict.They make the hero actively fight for something.)

Opening Image & Ordinary World: Probably his first day of school and Red is clearly SCARED.

Immediately Red jumps behind a bush to hide. Goal: to disappear/to hide.  

Call to Action: He sees the other Boy. Kapow. His heart is in the game. It beats against his chest — it doesn’t want to hide and disappear. (A direct conflict/opposition of what Red wants.)

But Red REFUSES THE CALL and keeps pushing his heart back in his chest. In fact. Heart argues with Red to go to the boy, but Red refuses. 

But the heart is tricky and escapes. If Red wants Heart back he’ll have to Cross the Threshold.

And as soon as he does, Red is immediately tested. He’s face to face with the boy — he can’t hide. They even hold hands for a second. The question is; Can Red ‘survive’ in this new world? 

Another test: this time, as he grasps for Heart, he comes nose-to-nose with the boy. And to escalate the problem — more people show up. The pressure is on, and we want to know if Red can handle it. 

The answer; No.

He fails the test. Hides in the nearest trash can. (1:30) (Point of No Return)


Heart has had a taste of love and likes it! 

Heart knows it’s possible now. But Red continues to refuse the call, because if he agreed to it there would be no conflict. 

Heart Challenges Red and they have a little action sequence where they fight for control.

Heart wins. Makes his way into the school. Yikes. Red pursues. 

And faces his greatest fear — exposing his true self in front of others. The other students stare.

Remember, Red wants to be invisible. To hide. His greatest fear is in alignment with his goal.

In this case, the Final Ordeal and All is Lost happen together. 

Red rips Heart in half  in order to escape. He rushes away, and back into hiding. All is Lost for Red.

As Red sits under the tree, he experiences the Dark Night of the Soul. The lowest point for the hero. 

But the Love Interest finds him. And brings a gift — the other half of Heart. The break is mended. 

In this case, the love interest has helped the hero heal. Heart won, but Red has experienced the greatest growth (or arc). 

Final Image; Red is no longer alone and scared. He has Heart, and a friend.

There you have it. Even in a four minute, family-friendly, kid-focused short, without dialogue,  we experience the hero’s journey. 

There is a WANT & a NEED. If your hero is already happy and her life is perfect, there is no room to grow. Even a kid has room to grow. If your hero has nothing to fight for, there is no action or conflict. If there is no action or conflict, there is no story. That’s just another day in the life. 

Stories are not about a normal day in the life, they are about CHANGE.