GIVE YOUR CHARACTERS CLEAR GOALS - PART ONE
This one seems simple enough, right? Maybe not so much. When you’re writing your next masterpiece, it’s important to remember to give your characters clear and distinct goals to work towards. Not just your main character, but all major characters in the story.
If you think about it, a story is nothing more than following characters trying to achieve their goals. If they didn’t have goals, we wouldn’t have drama, excitement, anticipation or a reason to cheer for the main character to win. We wouldn’t have a story.
Let’s take this one step further. Not only do we want to give our main character a clear goal to work towards, we want to make sure it’s a goal worth striving for. We want to make sure it’s a goal the audience can get behind, stand up and cheer for our protagonist to win.
If the audience isn’t cheering, you’ve lost them to the popcorn bucket. That’s right...you’re competition is a popcorn bucket.
With two types of stories in this world, comedy and tragedy, let's start by setting up a goal for a comedy.
GOALS IN A COMEDY
First off, comedy doesn’t indicate a HAHA funny film. It’s a story that ends with the main character winning or achieving their goal. Simply put, in a love story, the main character gets the girl or man.
Let’s build out a comedy where our main character is a school teacher.
With absolutely no idea of what my story is, I need to figure it out. Starting at the base, I know this story is about a teacher. That’s not a story, it’s a person. So, let’s give them a goal to make it a story.
First thing that comes to mind is that I want the teacher to help a struggling student. In the end the student passes the class, learns a life lesson and the teacher is fulfilled. At a high level this seems like a simple enough goal that works, except for one thing...it doesn’t.
This goal doesn’t speak to me because it’s external. External goals will NOT captivate your audience. We are not cheering for the main character to win with an external goal. It needs to be internal. Something the main character absolutely needs. Let’s give our teacher an internal goal that works.
Again, with not much to go on, I’m just going to throw something at the wall and hope it sticks. My teachers new goal is to reconnect with his daughter. Yeah...that sounds good. A good goal to have.
So now I have a teacher, I know he’s a man and he has a goal of reconnecting with his daughter. This is something I can get behind and let me show you why.
If we set our story up properly, we will want to cheer for this character to win(reconnect with his daughter). The story opens with our teacher, in a courtroom, drunk. This is a pretty low moment. Let’s take it even lower and rip away everything he has.
In that courtroom with him is his wife, daughter, a few lawyers and a judge. It’s a divorce hearing and custody battle. The scene concludes with the judge awarding full custody to his wife, with no visitation privileges. Now, we’re nearing rock bottom. This is great. I now have something I want the main character to achieve.
Without even knowing anything more about this person, I STILL want them to win. I want him to get sober and get his daughter back. It’s inevitable, how could you not want that for our main character?
To round out this story, I would have him take a teaching job(without his ex’s knowledge) at the daughters school. He reconnects day by day, winning as we close in on the 50% mark of the story (keep in mind, he’s still drinking). From then on things take a downturn until we hit rock bottom.
Rock bottom here is where the ex wife finds out, calls the cops, they show up, arrest our teacher, drunk, at the school and in front of his daughter. He loses his job and contemplates suicide. Now we really want this poor bastard to win, don’t we?
Instead of killing himself, he goes to see his lawyer and asks what he needs to do to get his daughter back. He’ll do anything it takes. With a little advice, the lawyer agrees to set up a hearing if our teacher can get his shit together. To put a bow on this little gift, the teacher does what he needs to do, they arrive at the hearing and the man is awarded joint custody. He wins.
To round this thing up, set a clear and internal goal for your main character. A goal that will have the audience begging for this man to win. Saving people from a failed dinosaur theme park is NOT a good goal. It’s external. Remember to look inside. What does the CHARACTER need? Internally.
Check back next week as I perform the same exercise on a tragedy.
Write on writers!
- The Failed Filmmaker