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May 16, 2023

Breaking Down Dune Using John Yorke’s Roadmap of Change

With buzz building for the arrival of Dune Part II later in 2023, let’s look back at the first Dune to see just why everyone is so excited.

Adapted from Frank Herbert’s iconic sci-fi novel, Dune is a stunning epic set centuries into the future. It tells the story of the noble family Atreides on their quest for control of the valuable resource ‘spice’.

Here, we'll take a closer look at the structure of the film, breaking down its 5 act structure, and the character arc of its protagonist. 

Who are the main characters of Dune?

Let's break down the main characters

Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet)

Dune’s protagonist is the young heir to the powerful House Atreides and perhaps a prophesied leader of the ancient religious order the Bene Gesserit. 

Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac)

Paul’s father, the leader of House Atreides is considered to be an honorable man.

Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson)

Paul’s mother, a member of the Bene Gesserit who believes that Paul may be the leader of prophecy: ‘The One’.

Chani (Zendaya)

A mysterious girl from Paul’s visions, she is a member of the Fremen — natives of Arrakis. Paul will finally meet her at the end of the film.

Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa)

A fierce warrior and close confidante of House Atreides, he is both a protector of Paul and perhaps the closest thing the boy has to a real friend.

John Yorke’s Roadmap of Change

Dune is a movie full of amazing visuals and sounds. But this is nothing if people aren’t engaged with the main character, Paul Atreides. So, we'll look at Paul's story through the 5 stages of change from John Yorke's book 'Into The Woods

Paul is understandably reluctant to embrace his violent destiny.

Act I 

No knowledge

When we first meet Paul, he does not want to use ‘The Voice’ at Breakfast. The voice is a powerful tool that weaponises words against their users. Paul is a sleepy teenager who does not want to concern himself with any grand prophecies right now. 

Growing knowledge

Soon after, Paul goes for a walk with his father, Duke Leto Atreides. Leto tells him that “A great man doesn’t seek to lead. He’s called to it, and he answers”. He tells his son that as a young man, he also had doubts about his station. But, he found his own way to it, and perhaps Paul will too. 


At the end of Act I, right before the Atreides family leaves their home for Arrakis, Paul is subjected to a test from the Reverend Mother of the Bene Gesserit. Placing his hand in the ‘pain box’, he must control his impulses.

If he does what he wants to do, he will die. So, he must embrace what he needs to do, and this is what he does. Paul Atreides’ journey of change has truly begun. 

Act II


At the beginning of Act II, there is a moment of doubt. And so, as Paul arrives on Arrakis and discovers that the locals believe him to be the messiah, he refuses to believe it. 

Paul perhaps does not want to believe his destiny himself.

Overcoming reluctance

Wandering outside the palace, Paul considers why they keep palm trees when they take up so much water. As he is watched by Fremen pilgrims, he is told that they are important, as they are an old dream. Like a prophecy.


Soon after, Paul is attacked in his bedroom by a hunter seeker. He not only survives, but manages to catch the tiny killing machine. Paul has enemies who are interested in him.


Experimenting with knowledge

From here, Paul begins to flirt with his destiny. He meets Stilgar, a leader of the Fremen. He discovers that his friend Duncan Idaho looks up to them. And then, he heads out to the dunes of Arrakis, where he will encounter a moment of breakthrough at Dune’s midpoint.

Breakthrough with key knowledge

Helping the crew of a Spice Harvester escape a great Sandworm, Paul encounters spice for the first time and has a vision of things to come. He sees the mysterious girl Chani, who appears to be guiding him. But then, as they are about to kiss, she suddenly seems to stab him. 

All he knows for sure is that someone will give him a knife at some point and that his mother Lady Jessica is pregnant. Paul truly realizes now that violence is in his future, and that his mother will need protecting. 

Experimenting post-knowledge

At that, House Atreides is betrayed and attacked by their nemeses the Harkonnens. Paul, having made his breakthrough, is now able to use ‘The Voice’ to save his mother and have her kill their captors. Note: he’s not able to kill someone yet, but he facilitates it.

Act IV


But there is always retrenchment in Act IV, and so Paul is horrified when he has a second vision of war and atrocities being committed in his name.

Growing reluctance

As his doubt grows, Paul proposes marrying the Emperor’s daughter. This is despite his visions of Chani and fighting with the Fremen. Afraid of his visions, of the chaos and bloodshed, Paul is attempting to circumvent his destiny to find a more peaceful solution.


And soon, it would appear that the chances of Paul achieving his destiny hang in the balance. As their enemies hunt them down, Paul’s great protector Duncan Idaho dies in battle. Paul tries to get out to save him and has to be pulled away. Their only hope is to find the Fremen and get help, but the odds are stacked against them.

Act V


As their ‘thopter’ struggles in a gigantic sandstorm, Paul has a third vision, wherein he is told a friend will teach him the ways of the desert. In his vision, this mysterious friend tells him to stop fighting destiny and go with the flow, and Paul does so.


Paul is now in the desert, wearing a Fremen suit, teaching his mother the sandwalk, and surviving an encounter with the Sandworm. Paul is learning the ways of the Fremen, and approaching his destiny.  

Total mastery

But is Paul really willing to do what is necessary to achieve his great and terrible destiny? He must still prove it. And so, in order to protect those he loves, he offers to fight a Fremen warrior, Jamis (Babs Olusanmokun). This is the ‘friend’ from his visions, but it turns out the lesson he will teach him is a hard, blood-soaked one. Jamis is the first person that Paul kills. 

The magnitude of the climactic action is revealed through Jessica and Stilgar.

In Act I, Paul learned how to receive violence. In Act II, he survived violence. In Act III, he foresaw and facilitated violence. In Act IV, he failed to circumvent violence and lost to it. Finally, in Act V, he commits the ultimate act of violence.

Of course, all of this is only half the journey. Now that Paul has encountered his need to embrace the violence of his destiny, we have to see if he can indeed follow it through to the end.

What can we learn from Dune?

While its visuals and sound effects wow us, Dune is masterful at charting the gradual change of its protagonist through its 5-act and 15 points structure. 

The 5 act structure is also breaks down the dreaded ‘long second act’ into more manageable chunks.

Here we see how Paul struggles with but moves towards his change over the middle of Dune in clear and consistent stages. 

Be sure to read the rest of our breakdown series for more ideas on how to structure your plot. And of course, don’t forget you can download our software for FREE today.


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Breaking Down Dune Using John Yorke’s Roadmap of Change
Mark Hennigan

Mark is a screenwriter, writing coach, life-long film fan, and self-confessed story structure nerd.

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