Two Goals for the Hero

Your hero has two goals: a physical goal and an emotional goal. What’s important is that your hero achieves the emotional goal, but pursuit of the physical goal allows the hero to achieve that emotional goal. For example in “Rocky,” Rocky thinks he wants a shot at the championship but what he really wants is to prove to the world that he’s not a bum. To do that, he has to pursue the physical goal, which is to fight in the heavyweight championship of the world.

There are two other goals your hero needs to achieve as well. In the first half of the story, your hero is pursuing a Symbol of Hope goal for selfish reasons. In “WALL-E,” this goal occurred when WALL-E first saw Eve and fell in love with her. Then his goal for the first half of the movie is to get her to fall in love with him, which she finally does at the midpoint of the movie. In “Avatar,” this goal occurs when the hero finally makes love to the alien girl who he has been pursuing since she rescued him when he got abandoned in the forest.

So the first goal is always a selfish goal for the hero. However, achieving this selfish goal turns out to be a False Victory because it still doesn’t solve all of the hero’s┬áproblems. Specifically, the villain is still out there, planning a goal that will have Horrible Consequences for others, including someone the hero loves. While the first half of a movie involves the hero pursuing a selfish goal that culminates in a False Victory, the second half of a movie involves the hero’s second goal, which is to save a loved one.

In “Star Wars,” Luke’s False Victory goal is to get off his planet and have an adventure through delivering R2D2 to help Princess Leia. When he rescues Princess Leia, his new goal is to help Princess Leia and the rebellion.

In “Avatar,” the hero has achieved a False Victory goal in the first half of the movie by falling in love with an alien girl. In the second half of the movie, he now must stop the villain by saving the alien race.

The second half goal is always a bigger, selfless goal to save a loved one. Now the hero can no longer think only of him or herself, but of a loved one who cannot save him or herself. In “Finding Nemo,” the hero’s first half goal is to find the mask that will lead him to Nemo. Then the second half goal is to rescue Nemo. In “Wreck-It Ralph,” the hero’s first half goal is to get a medal for himself. Then his second half goal is to save a little girl in a racing video game.

This second half goal involves three factors:

  • Someone the hero loves is in danger and unable to save themselves
  • The villain’s actions will hurt the hero’s loved one
  • If the villain achieves his goal, innocent people, including the hero’s loved one, will suffer

In “Star Wars,” Princess Leia is in danger from the Death Star and unable to save herself. Darth Vader’s goal is to wipe out the rebel base, which will kill thus rebellion and also kill Princess Leia. In the process of blowing up the rebel base, Darth Vader will kill Princess Leia.

In “Die Hard,” the hero’s wife is in danger from the villain and unable to save herself. The villain wants to blow up all the hostages to help him escape after he gets all the bonds out of the corporate vault. If the villain’s plan succeeds, innocent people (including the hero’s wife) will die.

In “Wreck-It Ralph,” the hero’s friend (a little girl in a racing video game) will never be able to race again and be forever treated like a nuisance. The villain wants to keep the girl from racing so he can remain in power in the video game. Alien bugs from another video game are destroying everything and threatening to wipe out the car racing game and the little girl in the process.

In “Avatar,” the hero’s girlfriend will come under attack from the villain. The villain wants to drive the aliens out of their sacred tree so they can mine the minerals underneath. If the villain succeeds in destroying this sacred tree, the alien race (including the hero’s girlfriend) will suffer and possibly die from the attack.

So the hero has dual twin goals. First there are the dual goals of a physical goal and an emotional goal that drives the entire story. Second there are the selfish and selfless goals where the selfish goal drives the first half of the story and the selfless goal drives the second half.

The selfish goal leads to the midpoint where the hero achieves a False Victory that seems to be what the hero wanted all along, but doesn’t solve all of the problems created by the villain. The selfless goal starts from the midpoint to the climactic battle at the end where the hero strives to protect a loved one from the villain’s actions. If the villain achieves his goal, not only will the hero lose, but the hero’s loved one will suffer as well. This dual dilemma gives the hero strength to fight the villain. It’s bad enough for the hero to lose, but for the hero’s loved one to suffer as well makes defeat even worse.

Outline a selfish goal for the first half of your story. Then outline a selfless goal where the hero needs to save a loved one from the actions of the villain trying to achieve his own goal. When you have both the hero’s selfish and selfless goals outlined, you’ll have a complete story that takes your audience on a wild emotional ride from beginning to the end.

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