The foundation of every story begins with a character trying to achieve a goal. Initially that goal is internal or emotional with no specific way to resolve it. That’s why the character also needs an external or physical goal to achieve the internal/emotional goal. Two ways to create an internal/emotional goal for your hero are:
- The hero knows what he or she wants to achieve but doesn’t know how to get it
- The hero doesn’t know what he or she needs but isn’t happy with his or her current situation
In “Star Wars,” Luke clearly knows he wants to get off his boring planet, but has no idea how to do it. Darth Vader conveniently provides him with the way to live the adventure of his dreams.
In “Liar Liar,” the hero is a lying lawyer. Although he does’t know it initially, he needs to stop lying. Until he stops lying, he won’t have a decent relationship with his ex-wife and son.
To define your her’s initial internal/emotional goal, you need to know your hero’s history or back story. That can be something that we gradually learn over time, such as in “Casablanca” when we gradually learn why Rick (the hero) is so cynical because of his failed affair. Sometimes it can be something we see right up front such as in “There’s Something About Mary” when we see the hero suffer through a failed date with Mary and gets embarrassed when he gets his manhood caught in his zipper and he fails to go on a date with Mary.
So the main foundation of every story is not only a hero trying to achieve a goal, but a hero with a rich past that drives that hero to achieve that particular goal. The past causes an initial problem for the hero and the present offers the hero a way out. However, the hero can’t immediately grab on to the present solution because that would be boring. What every story also needs is conflict, and the best conflict is when the hero is stopping him or herself.
In “Star Wars,” Luke is torn between wanting an adventure and staying loyal to his uncle’s farm. Even when offered a chance to leave his uncle’s farm, Luke refuses until he finds his aunt and uncle murdered by stormtroopers. This internal conflict keeps the hero from solving his problem too soon.
In “Thelma and Louise,” the heroes want to be free, but they feel constrained by the male-dominated world that they live in. If they simply left their old way of life and moved to a new city, there would be no story because there would be no internal conflict. Internal conflict forces the hero to battle themselves, which is far more interesting than meaningless explosions and gunfire. What makes internal conflict more interesting is when it’s externalized into an outer conflict.
What’s the worst that could happen to Thelma and Louise? Not only do other men try to take advantage of them, but now they’re trying to hunt them down and capture them to put them in jail, which would be the ultimate loss of freedom that they so desperately crave.
What’s the worse that could happen to Luke in “Star Wars”? That a villain will dominate the galaxy and destroy Luke’s old way of life so he has nothing at all.
Start with a hero wanting an internal/emotional goal. Then define an internal conflict within that hero such as Luke wanting an adventure but torn into staying on his uncle’s farm. Now provide an external goal that provides the hero with a way to achieve the internal/emotional goal while struggling with his or her own internal conflict at the same time.
Stories are only interesting when characters have an internal/emotional goal, and struggle to achieve it by overcoming both their internal conflict and external obstacles. When you can combine an internal emotional with an external goal, you’ll likely have the strong foundation for a good story.