The Life Force of Your Hero

The hero of every movie needs a goal. That goal can’t just be any goal, but a goal that’s so important to the hero that it’s literally a life or death situation.

Your hero needs a goal to move your story forward. Given any character, there are a million possible goals, but out of those near infinite number of goals, there’s only a handful that are so important to that character that it’s literally a matter of life or death.

In “WALL-E,” this goal is to find somebody to love. If WALL-E never finds someone to love, he won’t physically die, but his life will be so poor and miserable as a result that he might as well physically die.

In “Ratatouille,” Remy the Rat loves cooking and devotes his whole life to cooking. Take away cooking and he won’t physically die, but his life will be so dull and miserable, such as in the beginning of the movie when he father forces him to use his sensitive nose to smell garbage for poison residue.

The reason why your hero needs a goal that’s so important that it’s literally life or death is to make this goal crucial enough to force the hero to act. If Bruce Willis really didn’t want to get back together with his wife, he could have just snuck away and let the terrorists get away with their plan. Why fight them if he doesn’t have to? Yet he does fight them and he chooses the hardest path possible because he wants to get back with his wife since it’s literally his life that he’s fighting for.

Think of any real person you know well. Chances are good that person has one idea that’s so important to him or her that that person would be totally miserable if they couldn’t indulge in that idea. For example, someone might love animals and they could never bear to be away from their pets. Imagine someone kidnapping a pet from an animal lover. That animal would mean so much to that person that they’d do anything to get that pet back again.

On the other hand, imagine someone who could care less about animals, yet is given a pet dog as a gift. Now if someone kidnaps that dog, that person would just shrug his or her shoulders and do something else.

To make your story compelling, your hero needs a desire so powerful that not having that goal would literally mean that character’s death. An animal lover could not rest until he or she did everything possible to retrieve a stolen pet.

Every person is different because every person values different things. One person might value his collection of old cars and will do anything to protect them, even irrational things. Another person might love the thrill of making business deals and will do everything possible to be in that type of environment. Put that person on a beach with a billion dollars and they’d be bored. Put that person on Wall Street with a thousand dollars and suddenly that person is energized beyond believe, and that’s the type of character that makes an interesting story.

What is your hero’s number one desire that he or she absolutely needs in life? That’s the desire your villain needs to threaten to motivate your hero into taking action now and making your story dynamic and interesting at the same time.

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