Give Every Character Conflict and a Goal

It’s easy to see the problems of a bad movie like “Gods of Egypt.” Just look at the motivation of the main characters. If only the hero has any understandable motivation, then it’s probably a bad movie. In “The 5th Wave,” the hero has a goal of finding her younger brother, but her younger brother doesn’t have any goal whatsoever. He just gets swept up in the military and has little motivation to do anything other than exist. As a result, he’s a boring character so when the hero finally does rescue him, it’s no more exciting than if the hero had simply picked up a piece of trash off the street.

Every major character needs a goal. In “Barbershop: The Next Cut,” the main character wants to protect his son from the violent streets of Chicago’s South Side. So he plans to move his son to a new school and move his barbershop to a safer neighborhood. The hero’s son wants to be free of his parents and be his own man. One of the hero’s co-workers is tempted to have an affair with another co-worker.¬†With so many characters having a goal and clear motivation to achieve that goal, we’re constantly kept in suspense waiting to see how each character’s pursuit of a goal turns out. That holds our interest and creates a good story.

In “The Jungle Book,” the bear is given a clear motivation, which is to be lazy and try to get everyone else to do his work for him. The villain (the tiger) has a strong motivation to kill the hero because the hero’s father burned the villain with fire. The hero has a clear goal of wanting to find a place where he belongs.

In “Star Wars,” all the main characters have clear goals and motivation. Luke wants to get off his boring planet and have an adventure. Hans Solo wants to make money. Princess Leia wants to help the rebels. Obi-wan wants to redeem himself with Darth Vader.

When your main characters lack a goal and motivation to pursue that goal, then they simply exist for the sake of the story, and that makes for a boring story with characters nobody really cares about.

To have a great story, you must have characters the audience can care about and that means giving them a clear goal and a clear motivation to achieve that goal. Once we know what each character wants and why, then we’ll be enthralled to watch how that character eventually hopes to achieve that goal, and that’s what good story telling is really all about.

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