Every hero needs to pursue a physical goal. However, that physical goal is never what the hero really wants. Instead, what the hero really needs to achieve is an emotional dream, which the hero may not even be consciously aware of.
Think of the reason why people go on diets. Going on a diet is never about losing weight, even if that’s a physical goal. The real reason people go on a diet is to achieve an emotional dream, such as wanting to look more attractive, wanting to feel better about themselves, or wanting to find love and hoping being more attractive will help them find someone to love.
In other words, the physical goal always (yes, always) has a hidden emotional dream behind it.
This is crucial because once you know your hero’s physical goal and why they want to achieve that goal, you also know their emotional motivation. By knowing a hero’s motivation, you know how to challenge that emotional dream to make it as hard as possible to achieve.
In “Rocky,” the hero’s physical goal is to fight in the heavyweight championship, but ask yourself why? One reason might be for revenge. Another might be to prove himself the best. Still another reason might be to see if he can do it. Notice that if you choose any of these reasons, the entire story changes dramatically.
If Rocky were out for revenge, his actions and obstacles getting in his way would be wildly different. Instead, Rocky’s motivation to fight is to prove to himself and the world that he’s not a bum.
Knowing Rocky’s true motivation makes it easy to define the rest of the story. No matter what happens, Rocky must prove to others that he’s not a bum. That means all the obstacles Rocky faces must make him feel like he is a bum:
- When Rocky flirts with Adrian in the pet store, the pet store owner dismisses Adrian, which indirectly makes Rocky feel like a bum.
- When Rocky loses his locker to another boxer, he confronts Mickey, who makes Rocky feel like a has-been.
- When Rocky works as a strongman for a crime boss, having to threaten people makes Rocky feel like a bum.
Whatever your hero’s physical goal might be, you must identify the real motivation behind pursuing that physical goal. Just as people go on a diet for different reasons (such as for their health or to look more attractive so they can find someone to love), heroes in every story want to achieve a physical goal for a specific reason.
Too many writers focus just on the physical goal to create an intriguing plot for their story. However, you must define and understand the underlying emotional motivation for why your hero wants to achieve that physical goal because that motivation must shape everything else in the story.