What makes a compelling hero? A hero is someone you respect, although you may not agree with them, and the surest way to gain someone’s respect is to overcome tremendous obstacles.
What makes a story so compelling is the ending where the hero has to overcome great odds and obstacles to finally achieve a goal. Think of Luke Skywalker blowing up the Death Star or Bruce Willis battling the terrorists in “Die Hard”. Both of these heroes had to overcome tremendous odds to finally be capable of taking on the villain. Imagine if the hero’s great goal in life was to walk down the street and order a hamburger. Not too exciting now, is it?
A tough goal with lots of obstacles helps make a story interesting and compelling. To create such a tough goal, you simply have to make your hero’s life as difficult as possible.
First, start with your hero’s greatest weakness and pour salt in that wound to make your hero suffer. In “Ratatouille”, Remy the rat wants to be a chef, which is a nearly impossible goal for a rat. To make Remy’s goal even tougher, he first gets separated from his supporting family. Not only does he lose the support of his family, but he’s also isolated in Paris. Finally, the head chef in the restaurant wants to kill him because he’s a rat. Notice how Remy’s life has gone from dreaming an impossible dream at the beginning of the story to living a life of near hell. Now we’re definitely interested in how the hero could possibly succeed.
Every hero has two goals, an emotional goal and a physical goal. In “Ratatouille”, Remy’s physical goal is to become a chef, but his emotional goal is to be accepted for who he really is, which is a food connoisseur trapped in a rat’s body. In order for the hero to achieve his physical goal, he must first achieve his emotional goal.
In “Die Hard”, Bruce Willis’s emotional goal is to get back with his wife. His physical goal is to defeat the terrorists who are physically keeping him from reaching his wife. Notice how the physical goal and the emotional goal are intertwined.
Just a physical goal might be interesting, especially if there are plenty of explosions, special effects, and car crashes. However, physical goals are ultimately empty without an emotional goal to make us care.
Before you define your hero’s physical goal, first define the emotional goal. Then create a physical goal that tortures your hero the most and puts his emotional goal in serious jeopardy.
What audiences want to see is your hero suffering, but also fighting back. That’s the ingredient for drama and conflict, which is what draws us into a story in the first place.