Inside and Out

The journey of the hero is always from the inside out, not the outside in. Where most movies make the mistake is by forgetting that the hero’s real goal must be made visible through the outer obstacles that he or she faces.

Every movie is about a hero trying to achieve something. At the simplest level, the hero just needs to achieve a visible, tangible goal, such as saving a woman tied to train tracks by a villain. Everyone can understand that goal and see the obstacles stopping the hero from reaching that goal.

However, what gives a movie depth isn’t just the outer obstacles that we see the hero facing and overcoming, usually in a blizzard of special effects and computer-generated images. What’s more important is how the hero’s inner turmoil mirrors the outer turmoil.

For example, in “WALL-E,” the WALL-E robot is trying to find love. The main obstacle is trying to find love with Eve, the other robot. The outer obstacles simply keep WALL-E from finding love until the end of the movie. Essentially, every screenplay can be boiled down to this simple formula:

  • The hero has an emotional goal
  • The hero needs to achieve a physical goal to reach this emotional goal

Most bad movies skip over the hero’s emotional goal and just jump into action with exploding helicopters, serial killers picking off clueless teenagers, or people having sex. While there’s nothing wrong with any of these types of scenes, they’re ultimately meaningless if they don’t support the hero’s inner, emotional goal, which is simple. To find love, to be with a loved one, to prove oneself, to save a loved one, etc.

Good movies show us a hero’s emotional needs first, and then engages us with a story that shows the hero’s struggle to fill that emotional need. Find your hero’s emotional need and then wrap a story around that emotional need that highlights those problems. A story with emotional needs and outer obstacles that manifest those emotional needs will always create a stronger story than just relying on special effects or sex to keep an audience interested.

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