Every character has a fear. The hero has a dream but is blocked by fear. To achieve this dream, the hero must learn to become a better person and abandon the past.
Act I: Hero has a dream and a fear
Act IIa: Hero learns a new way of life
Act IIb: Hero learns to admit his fear (character flaw)
Act III: Hero changes and achieves dream
The quickest way to give every hero believable motivation is to ask yourself, “What does this hero fear the most?” Every hero has a dream, but cannot achieve it because fear holds him or her back. To achieve a dream, every hero must do the following
- Learn a new way to live
- Abandon an old way to live
The fear that the hero has is exactly what the hero needs to overcome to change into a better person. In “Titanic,” Rose fears standing up for herself. In “Die Hard,” John McClane fears losing his wife. In “The Hunger Games,” Katniss fears she won’t be able to protect her sister from the harsh world that they live in.
Once you know your hero’s biggest fear and your hero’s dream, your story is all about the hero’s fear keeping the hero’s dream out of reach. Everything in your story must either help or hinder the hero by amplifying this fear.
In “The Hunger Games,” Katniss simply wants to protect her litter sister. Throughout the story, the hero is constantly running into obstacles that will make the hero’s greatest fear come true vs. help that makes the hero closer to achieving her dream. This back and forth struggle between fear keeping the hero from achieving a dream vs. achieving the dream is what every story is really all about.
In “The Hunger Games,” the hero’s little sister is scared about the lottery to pick tributes who must die in the Hunger Games contest. Katniss tries to soothe her little sister’s fears and everything looks like the hero will achieve her dream until the littler sister’s name gets picked.
This threatens to destroy the hero’s dream of protecting her little sister so she immediately takes action to help her dream come closer, which means she volunteers to take her little sister’s place.
While this initially saves the little sister, it now puts the hero in a life or death struggle. From this point on, the hero can only achieve her dream by staying alive, so obstacles constantly pop up to threaten this dream. In order to continue protecting her little sister, Katniss must survive and by the end of the story, that’s exactly what happens.
In “Back to the Future,” Marty’s biggest fear is that he’s not good enough. He wants to be a musician, but doesn’t think he can ever do it. The only way he can achieve this dream is by learning to believe in himself and he’s forced to do so by helping his parents get back together again.
Throughout the story, Marty’s constantly battling his fear of not being good enough vs. his dream of wanting to be a musician. Finally he gets to become a musician, which helps his parents finally kiss and eventually fall in love to marry and have him as a child. By the end of “Back to the Future,” Marty has learned to trust himself and helped change his entire world in the process.
Every story is about a hero with a dream and an internal fear that’s holding him or her from achieving that dream. Now the entire story is about either keeping the hero from achieving this dream or moving the hero closer to this dream. Obstacles amplify the hero’s fear while solutions move the hero closer to the overall dream.
Know what your hero fears internally. Identify your hero’s dream. Then your entire story is nothing more than keeping your hero from this dream and forcing the hero to gradually overcome this fear in order to achieve this dream.