Everyone’s Pursuing the Same Goal

Every story is really about the same goal. The goal may not be exactly identical, but the goal is similar. For example, in “Ant Man and the Wasp,” the basic goal is reuniting the family. This occurs in several ways:

  • The original Ant Man, Hank Pym, loses his wife, the original Wasp, when she’s lost in the quantum realm. Now his goal is to reunite with her.
  • The new Ant Man, Scott Lang, is separated from the new Wasp, Hope Pym, the daughter of Hank Pym who he likes romantically. Now his goal is to reunite with her.
  • Scott Lang can’t leave his house to be with his daughter. By the end, he’s finished his house arrest and can be with his daughter.
  • Ghost (Ava Starr), a woman whose body is unstable, has lost her parents and eventually finds a father figure with Bill Foster, a scientist who is trying to help her stabilize her body.

Notice that every subplot is about people trying to reunite and find a family in different ways. Focusing every subplot on the same type of goal keeps a story unified. What happens if one subplot involves trying to reunite with a family member and another subplot is about revenge? Now you’re suddenly telling two different stories, which creates a fractured, disjointed effect that can only hurt both subplots.

Start with the main goal that the hero wants to achieve. Then you automatically know the same type of goal for every other subplot. Romantic comedies are all about love, so the best romantic comedies are all about finding love. In “Legally Blonde,” Elle, the hero, wants to find love but so does her ally, a hairdresser, and her other ally, a fellow law student whose a nerdy type of guy.

In “The Wizard of Oz,” every character is trying to find something that they already have but they don’t know it. Only by going through their adventure do they realize they had what they were seeking all along.

One goal keeps your story focused and that’s the first step to writing a great screenplay.

[xyz-ihs snippet=”Making-a-Scene-book”]

2 thoughts on “Everyone’s Pursuing the Same Goal

  1. Steve B says:

    This makes a lot of sense and since you mention it I started recalling many good movies/shows I’ve seen that express this point. Thank you!

    I know this may be a bit off topic but I have a question(s) on scenes and how you describe them in your book(s).

    1) As I try to analyze and deconstruct books, tv shows and movies with your basic structure, could explain weaving multiple goals. For example, you list “hero” and “villain” goals. 2 different points of views. Should I first recognize the POV? I guess what I’m trying to ask is how to handle multiple POVs since most scenes involving more than one character usually have goals of their own, which many times conflict. (i.e Vader trying to capture Leia and Leia trying to escape/ Pinocchio wanting to go to school but the fox and cat want Pinocchio to see the puppeteer ). Like 3+ POVs.
    2) Can you clarify your use of “conflict” in this example you gave for your book? Due to my limited understanding of “conflict”, the example you gave seems more like a place holder. Wouldn’t it have been better to bump up or blend the resolution below as part of the conflict part?
    a. Problem – The guide has taken the treasure
    b. Goal – Find the treasure
    c. Conflict – Indiana Jones finds the guide, killed by a booby trap, and retrieves the treasure.
    d. Resolution – Indiana Jones escapes the collapsing cave, only to run into an army of natives…
    3) IN regards to the 4 part structure, Is it limited to one person or affects anyone? In an example you gave, The Problem in “Harold and Maude” was the hanging, then the Reaction was from Harold’s mother (I haven’t seen the movie so I’m not sure how it plays out). I hope that makes sense. Also with the Pinocchio example,
    4) Would you suggest making a list of Stepping Stones for all main characters and then weave? Or rather a goal/resolution template? Or are those interchangeable?

    I hope I asked those questions clearly. I just wanted to write out as much was on my mind as I could before I forgot. If you need any clarification, please let me know as I’m sure time will have structured my thoughts better.


  2. wallyadmin says:

    There are probably many different ways to handle multiple POVs but the way I handle it is to focus on one character at a time and define what their goal will be in each part of the story. Then I try to find ways to have other characters get in the way that makes sense. So it’s probably easier to start with the hero or villain and then figure out how a minor character can play a part in getting in the way with the help of the hero or villain. So I prefer to focus on one main character at a time and then layer the different goals so they overlap somehow.

    Conflict is basically when two characters have different goals and only one can succeed. The simple Indiana Jones example is when Indiana Jones wants the treasure and his guide wants it too so he tries to steal it away and leave Indiana trapped behind. Conflict is best when its two people against each other but weaker conflict is when one character is fighting the environment such as Indiana Jones trying to jump across a gap to get on the other side to safety.

    I’d suggest clarifying the main goals of each main character and then define stepping stones to that goal. Then the hard part is finding a way to creatively weave all of these different character goals together so they mix. Basically as long as each main character has a goal and is working towards it, the story will be more interesting than if most characters exist solely to help or hinder the villain with no purpose of their own.

    So I think it’s best to simply clarify the goals of all your main characters and then play around with how they mix together with the other character’s goals. It’s not easy but it’s fun and creative and frustrating doing this, which is probably why so many screenwriters skip this part and wind up writing weak screenplays as a result with characters who don’t have goals.

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