Right from the beginning, you audience has to know what goal your characters want to pursue. Sometimes the goal can be something specific such as in “Die Hard” where the goal of the hero is to get back with his wife. Often times the goal is something more vague such as the goal of the hero in “Harold and Maude” who simply seems to enjoy faking his deaths but we don’t quite know what motivates him to do so.
Whether you make your here’s goal clear from the start or not, your hero must have some goal he or she’s pursuing right from the start, even if it’s not even clear to the hero at the time. In “The Karate Kid,” the hero’s initial goal is just to fit in with his new environment. It’s relatively simple, but it’s a goal. Whatever goal that may be, it must be crystal clear to you as the writer from the start. Heroes without a goal will wind up wasting time and pursuing meaningless activities.
Look at the difference between novels and movies made from those same novels. Often times the novel provides details that the movie simply cuts out because it distracts from the focus of the movie. In “The Hunger Games,” there’s a minor character who tries to rebel but gets caught by the government and taken away. Later when Katniss is being prepared for the Hunger Games, she recognizes this girl who has now had her tongue cut out.
While this is interesting and strengthens the horror we need to feel towards the government, it provides little towards Katniss’s goal, which is to stay alive and protect her little sister.
Every hero needs one overriding goal that drives him or her from start to finish. In “The Maze Runner,” the hero’s trying to figure out the purpose of a giant maze he and a bunch of other boys are stuck in. Unfortunately this movie never answers that question completely, leaving the ending vague and emotionally unsatisfying. The hero had a goal of finding out who built the maze and why, yet at the end, we never quite understand who built the maze or why. When you provide a goal for your hero, your ending must clearly show if the hero achieves it or fails to achieve it. “The Maze Runner” does neither, which makes the end vague and emotionally dull. (If you read the book, you’ll find that the book ends the same way.)
Clear goals imply clear resolutions. In “Legally Blonde,” the goal is whether the hero will find true love or not. In “Avatar,” the goal is whether the hero will get his legs back so he can walk again or not. In “Frozen,” the goal is whether the hero can get back with her sister or not.When you fail to establish a goal or fail to resolve that goal, you fail to tell a story. It’s really that simple, yet you can see stories that fail to do this all the time (“The Maze Runner”), which results in mediocre movies at best. You don’t want to strive for mediocrity. You want to strive for excellence and you do that by establishing clear goals and resolutions to that goal.