Defining the Hero’s Impossible Goal

Every hero faces a seemingly impossible goal. Sometimes that goal can be earth-shattering such as in “Terminator 2” where the goal is to kill the evil Terminator to prevent a global nuclear war that will destroy much of the human race. Other times the impossible goal can be much simpler but still daunting such as “While You Were Sleeping” where the hero pretends to be the fiancé of a man in a coma, so what will happen when the man finally wakes up?

Every hero must pursue a seemingly impossible goal. The three elements that make that goal harder to achieve are:

  • Obstacles created by the villain
  • A deadline created by the villain
  • A death threat created by the villain

Obstacles are physical and involve increasing danger. In “Terminator 2,” the initial obstacle is to get some clothes. After succeeding in getting a motorcycle, the next obstacle is to find a John Connor. Once he finds him, the next obstacle is to keep the evil Terminator from killing him. When he’s gotten John Connor safely away from the evil Terminator, the next obstacle is going with John Connor to rescue Sarah Connor.

After rescuing Sarah Connor, the next obstacle is finding and stopping Sarah Connor after she goes off to kill the inventor of SkyNet. When they find her, the next obstacle is to destroy the SkyNet laboratories so they can’t develop SkyNet. After they destroy the laboratories, the final showdown occurs where the good Terminator must defeat the evil Terminator once and for all to protect John Connor.

Each successive obstacle gets more dangerous but they overcome each one until the hero finally achieves his final goal. Besides the escalating danger of each obstacle, a deadline forces the hero to act now. If the hero fails to act, the world will be destroyed. So a deadline forces the hero to keep tackling each obstacle without stopping, which creates an interesting story because there’s no time the hero can rest.

Finally, the impossible goal needs a death threat to both the hero and someone the hero loves. If the hero fails to achieve the impossible goal by the deadline, not only will the hero suffer, but someone the hero loves will also suffer. Now the hero must achieve the impossible goal to save someone he loves. In “Terminator 2,” the good Terminator must act to protect John and Sarah Connor.

In “The Hunger Games,” Katniss’s original goal is to protect her little sister. If Katniss fails to volunteer for the Hunger Games, her little sister will likely die in the arena instead. Katniss volunteers to protect her sister.

In “Die Hard,” the hero has to defeat the terrorists to save his wife. If he fails, then his wife will die.

Every impossible goal can be made worse by increasingly difficult obstacles, a deadline, and a death threat that promises Horrible Consequences if the hero fails to achieve the impossible goal. By stacking the odds so heavily against the hero with increasingly difficult obstacles, a deadline, and a threat of death to the hero and the hero’s loved one, the pursuit of the impossible goal grabs an audience’s attention and never lets it go.

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