In the beginning of every story, the hero’s stuck in a dead end life, often through no fault of his or her own. When we first meet the hero, the hero must yearn for a clear, physical goal.
While the hero knows what he or she wants, what’s stopping the hero from achieving this physical goal is also the hero’s own emotional need, and that’s the key to creating an emotionally engaging story.
Think of any story where the hero simply has a physical goal. Even when the hero achieves this physical goal, the story still feel flat and dull. That’s because the emotional need is missing.
The long list of mediocre movies occur because the hero lacks an emotional need. Think of any forgettable film recently (“Mortal Engines”, “The 5th Wave”, “The Spy Who Dumped Me”, etc.) and you’ll find that the hero fails to achieve any emotional change.
Now think any great movie (“Titanic”, “Rocky”, “Terminator 2”, etc.) and notice how the hero changes emotionally by the end. What makes the hero’s emotional change so compelling is that he or she must overcome their own character flaws.
In Act I, the hero yearns for a physical goal. Yet the hero is flawed and fails to see that what he or she really needs is an emotional dream. Start your story by clearly identifying your hero’s physical goal and emotional dream and you’ll go a long way towards creating a solid foundation for a compelling story.
In “Titanic”, Rose thinks her physical goal is to commit suicide to avoid marrying a man she doesn’t love. However her emotional need is to become a strong woman and define her own life. This emotional need is your story’s theme, which is why every story needs a strong theme or else it risks becoming an aimless jumble of action and characters that have no relation to each other.
In “Yesterday”, the hero thinks his physical goal is to become a famous musician. However his emotional need is to find his true love.
Ironically, the hero’s pursuit of a physical goal often pulls him or her away from the emotional need. In “Titanic” if Rose succeeds in killing herself, she’ll never learn to become a strong woman. In “Yesterday” if the hero becomes a famous musician by plagiarizing The Beatles, he risks losing the woman he loves.
It’s this tug of war between the hero’s physical goal and emotional need that provides the ongoing tension and conflict between the hero’s actions. On one hand, the hero wants to pursue the physical goal. On the other, the hero risks losing the emotional need.
You absolutely must start your hero with both a physical goal and an emotional need. This alone will help focus your story because the only conflict will be the hero’s struggle to achieve the physical goal before deciding to change and achieve the emotional need.