What do your characters want?

EVERY character has a goal and a need.

Each of the major characters in your story world has a goal for their life. A want. A desire.

From a junkie who wants to score, to a politician who wants to be president.

Even minor characters have goals, too.

And whenever a character, major or minor, comes into contact with your hero, those goals should clash.

This is conflict.

John Truby in his incredible book ANATOMY OF STORY describes a threefold opposition.

Your ‘hero’ or ‘protagonist’ has a moral flaw, right? And that moral flaw is preventing her from achieving her goal, right?

It’s only when she realizes her need that she has the inner knowledge and strength to achieve her goal, (or realize the goal she was chasing wasn’t important after all).

But that’s the climax: the moral / psychological revelation that causes new moral action and completes her change, her character arc.

To bring our hero to the point that drives her to have a moral or psychological revelation she must be attacked from all three corners of the ring – each opponent attacking her fatal flaw in a different way, from a different perspective.

For example in my screenplay about a vigilante who becomes addicted to killing pedophiles after his 7 year old daughter is raped and left for dead, he faces moral opposition from his wife who believes in trusting the legal system. He faces moral opposition from his (now teenage) daughter who believes in psychiatric help and rehabilitation for men convicted of sex crimes. Finally he faces moral opposition from a violent cop, representing the force of authority.

Yet each of these characters must have their goals and needs too and must always be working towards those goals.

We always want something – and so do our characters if we are to make them real – a life goal, a story goal and a scene goal.

For example in my screenplay the teenage daughter’s life goal is to pass her A levels so she can study Psychology at university and go onto help men like the one who hurt her. That’s her journey.

But her story goal is to stop her dad from killing on her behalf.

Yet a scene goal may be simply to make eggs for breakfast.

Even making those eggs, when she runs into her father in the kitchen, those story goals come into direct conflict. Even if it’s unspoken, it’s there in the tension. It’s there in the subtext.

Story goals cause conflict.

So, let’s do the groundwork, guys.

What do your characters want? What are their goals? In the scene, in their life, and in the story.

Let’s build a solid foundation for our screenplays.

Let’s know what our characters want.

vonnegut quote

Click here for John Truby’s definition of a psychological and a moral need.




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