The Real Goal of a Story

Most screenwriters focus myopically on the hero’s goal. That’s fine, but what makes a story great isn’t whether the hero achieves his goal or not, but how his goal affects others.

When you plot your story, just remember that it’s never about your hero. In one sense, your story does revolve around your hero. What emotional state is your hero missing and what physical achievement will help him fulfill it?

That’s your hero’s goal, but your story is more than just your hero. After all, nobody really cares about your hero. Even in the biggest blockbusters, your hero is the star, but the people around them are what really carries your story.

For example, consider every James Bond movie ever made. The hero is James Bond and his goal isn’t to satisfy his own needs, but to save the world from complete destruction. It’s hard for an audience to cheer for the selfish needs of a single person, but it’s easy for an audience to cheer for saving an entire planet from annihilation.

On a more personal level, “The Shawshank Redemption” isn’t just about Tim Robbins trying to escape out of prison. We want to see that, but we also want to see much more, and that’s seeing how Tim Robbins’s character inspires Morgan Freeman to also break out of the dull confines of his own life. We want Tim Robbins to win, but we cheer when his actions save Morgan Freeman as well.

And that’s what stories are really all about. Don’t think solely in terms of your hero and what he (or she) wants. Think of that plus how your hero’s actions can save others.

In “Independence Day,” we want the President to knock out the flying saucers not just for his sake, but for the sake of all humanity. In “WALL-E,” the WALL-E robot helps save the world through is goal of finding companionship. Even in a comedy like “Bend It Like Beckham,” we want the Indian girl to achieve her dream of playing soccer, but doing so also brings her closer to bringing love to her coach.

Every movie is about your hero, but make your hero’s actions bigger than your hero. Your hero’s goals are important, but your hero’s goals and how they affect others is crucial.

Create a story where your hero achieves a goal and you have a boring movie. Create a story where your hero achieves a goal and saves others, and you have the potential for a great movie. Which would you rather achieve?

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