It’s easy to focus on your hero and create a story solely around the hero’s actions. However if you do that, you’ll risk creating a one-dimensional story because any characters the hero meets during the course of the story will have no goals of their own to pursue. This will result in a flat story no matter how exciting the hero’s pursuit of a goal might be.
The key to making a story feel fully fleshed out is to make sure your villain and other supplementary characters have goals of their own, but don’t just give them any goals. Give each character a goal similar to the hero’s own goal.
First, choose a hero’s goal. Next, choose a goal for your villain where if the villain succeeds, the hero must lose and if the hero succeeds, the villain must lose.
This type of contradictory goal is easy to spot in sports stories where only one can be champion. Think of “Rocky” or “Secretariat” where if the hero wins, the villain loses and if the villain wins, the hero has to lose.
Other times the villains’ goal has nothing to do with the hero’s goal, but in order for one to succeed, the other needs to fail.
In “Die Hard,” the hero’s goal is to get back with his wife while the villain’s goal is to escape with corporate bonds. Those two goals have nothing to do with each other, but they get linked because the hero is threatening the villain so the villain holds the hero’s wife hostage.
Now the hero has to defeat the villain to free his wife while the villain has to kill the wife to prevent the hero from succeeding. By linking the hero’s goal with the villain’s goal in some way, the story absolutely must boil down to one can succeed only if the other one fails.
In “WALL-E”, the hero can only succeed by bringing the human race back to Earth while the villain can only succeed by keeping the human race from going back to Earth.
Once you have diametrically opposed goals for both the hero and the villain, the next step is to give all your supporting characters similar goals as the hero or villain.
Anyone helping the hero needs a similar goal as the hero. In “Die Hard,” the hero’s mentor is a police officer who admits that he accidentally shot a kid carrying a toy gun and has a hard time shooting his gun ever since. Then in the end he saves the hero by shooting the last terrorist, thereby showing that he’s finally overcome his past mistake.
“Die Hard” also has a terrorist whose brother is killed by the hero. Now this terrorist wants to kill the hero out of revenge.
By making sure your hero and villain have diametrically opposite goals, and by making sure that all additional characters have goals similar to the hero or villain, you can create a more fully formed story.
Each character’s goal supplements and enriches the hero or villain’s goal. As a result, the entire story will be much stronger.
So make sure all your characters have goals that are similar to the hero or villain. Then make sure your hero and villain have goals where only one can win. Just by doing this, you’ll lay the foundation for a strong story.