Make the Hero’s Motivation Clear

The most important part of the beginning is making the hero’s goal clear and understandable. Once we know why the hero wants something and why he or she is motivated to achieve it, then the audience will be hooked on the story from beginning to end. The hero’s goal must be crystal clear and the motivation behind achieving that goal must be totally relatable to the audience.

In “Legally Blonde,” the goal is to get back her boyfriend after he dumps her right when she’s expecting him to propose to her. The hero’s motivation is crystal clear because we all know the emotional pain of losing someone and the hero’s goal is also clear. Once your story starts with a clear goal and motivation, the rest of the story is about how to achieve that goal.

In “Sicario,” the hero is an FBI agent who raids a home to rescue hostages, only to find that she’s really stumbled across a brutal drug cartel home filled with corpses. Her goal is now to find who did this and bring them to justice. She’s motivated to do so not only because she’s horrified at someone who would bury corpses int he wall of a house, but also because two of her officers were killed in a booby trap. Now the hero wants to find who’s responsible for this and bring them to justice.

In every good movie, the hero’s goal is clear and understandable right from the start. While most people have never seen the Indian film “Wazir,” the basic idea is that an organized crime ring has killed the hero’s daughter. Now the hero’s motivated to get revenge and kill the organized crime leader. Simple, clear goal that everyone can understand. Once the goal is clear, the rest of the story simply shows the obstacles the hero faces in achieving that initial goal.

In “Die Hard,” the goal is to get back with his wife. The motivation becomes stronger after terrorists take over the skyscraper and endanger his wife’s life. While most stories show a clear goal with the hero achieving that goal, sometimes that goal is never achieved, but something better occurs instead. In “its A Wonderful Life,” the hero’s goal is to leave his small town and see the world. All throughout the story, he strives to do just that, but always fails. Yet in the process he learns so much more about life in general that he’s gained far more than his goal could have given him. Yet that goal gave the whole story a direction. Without that initial goal, the story would risk floundering in all directions with no focus whatsoever.

Before writing, define your hero’s goal and make it understandable. Making a goal clear is simple enough, but to make it understandable you have to make it emotional. Revenge is always a clear, understandable motivation (“Kill Bill”) and love is another understandable emotion (think of every romantic comedy). Beyond hate and love, there are also other emotional motivators such as:

  • A lofty dream (“Star Wars” and “It’s a Wonderful Life”)
  • Finding a purpose to life (“The Intern” and “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”)
  • Redemption for the past (“Rocky” and “Cliffhanger”)

When in doubt, use hate and love as your starting point. If those simple emotional motivators won’t work for your story, look at these other variations. A clear goal is crucial but understanding the motivation behind that goal is the key to hooking the audience from the very beginning. Make your hero’s motivation emotional and understandable. Your story will be stronger as a result.

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