The Hero’s Emotional Dream

In the beginning of every story, every hero needs an emotional dream that can only be achieved through physical conflict. The key is this physical conflict must make achieving the emotional dream seemingly impossible to achieve.

In “The Invisible Man,” a woman’s physical goal is to escape from an abusive man. Her emotional dream is to be a free woman once more. Thus to make this emotional dream seemingly impossible to achieve, she’s being stalked by her abuser, who’s an invisible man.

In “WALL-E,” the hero’s physical goal and emotional dream is to find someone to love. To make that emotional dream as hard as possible to achieve, the hero is stuck on an abandoned planet with only a cockroach for a friend.

In “The Shawshank Redemption,” the hero’s emotional dream is to be a free man once more. To make that emotional dream seemingly impossible to achieve, he’s stuck in prison and the only witness who can prove he’s innocent has been murdered.

Every hero needs a strong emotional dream. Think of any movie where the hero lacks a strong emotional need and that story likely lacks focus such as “Birds of Prey,” “Mortal Engines,” or “Divergent.” Without a strong emotional dream, there’s no meaningful conflict.

In “Terminator 2,” the hero’s emotional dream is to learn what it’s like to be human, so he needs to learn the value of human life. So the conflict constantly challenges the hero (the good Terminator) by forcing him to choose between killing or not killing.

Compare this to “Terminator 3” where there’s no emotional dream of the hero. Thus the conflict is just more action that’s completely forgettable the minute you finish watching it.

Conflict in any story is not about more explosions or car crashes, but about challenging the hero. In “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the hero has to learn how to be grateful for what he has. Thus all the conflict focuses on challenging him to realize what he does have compared to what he wishes he had such as more money or an exciting life outside of his small town.

Every story is about conflict and every conflict is about challenging the hero. Without knowing your hero’s emotional dream, you literally won’t know your conflict.

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