Saturday, June 16, 2007

What do you want from me?

Sometimes the answer is staring you in the face all the time.

Writing Partner is diligent. I got in at 4 am this morning but that didn't stop him from buzzing me bright and early to discuss the notes from the writers group meeting.

I got in at 4 because I was out bringing the damn house down with my karaoke skills. Wanna wrap the whole room around your finger? Sing "I'm Not Okay" by My Chemical Romance and scream the bridge as you hit the stage floor on your knees in a simulated musical catharsis. Oh yes. I got that party started.

Which was my goal for the evening.

Anyway, Partner and I spent our morning going over script notes. The eternal question came up: goal. What do our characters want? They have a clear sense of wanting to be better people, but they don't really want anything tangible. When they wake up in the morning they go through their day and interesting things happen that they learn from but they don't push the story with their desires. We need some tangible desires.

What's interesting to me is how often I say that to other people. What is your character's goal? They must have a goal. And yet here I was, putting a script out there with great characters whose goals are complete mysteries.

Partner and I did that this morning. We have a character who's kind of boring and serves as kind of an emotional punching bag the entire script. I asked Partner what this character's goal is.

Our character, Eric, has a lot of sexual issues as a sort of side bit to his personality. So Partner looked at the script and realized that instead of just having his girlfriend joke about his minor sexual issues we could turn it into a real conflict. He needs to fix these issues or he'll lose his girl. And tadaa! We raised the stakes.

The story was there. The character was there. We just needed to make one tiny change and everything fell into place.

If we don't know what your character wants how can we root for him? We won't know what we're rooting for.

Think about it right now for your latest script. Do you know what your protagonist wants? If you don't, you need to find out.

Right now my goal is to eat a sandwich. I'm gonna go make that happen if it takes all of the next five minutes.


  1. I just recently became aware of your blog and am really enjoying it.

    I have been struggling with what my characters want. I finished a rom com that got a lot of positive feedback except for this - a major showstopper - none of my readers knew what the female lead wanted.

    Since I'm working with comedy, I watched (and read the scripts for) the 40-year-old Virgin and Little Miss Sunshine a few times and really studied how the characters are set up. Little Miss Sunshine does an amazing job of establishing the SINGULAR motivating goal of each character in the first 5-7 pages. Olive wants to win a beauty contest, the brother wants to go to flight school, the father wants to make money and be taken seriously as a motivational speaker, the gay uncle wants to die, grandpa is just a hedonist, and the mother? She just wants everyone to get along. In the first 5 minutes. Trap these characters in a van together and shit naturally happens. It all comes from the clash of their singular wants.

    In Virgin, the problem is that Andy doesn't know he has a big problem, i.e. the giant erection he ignores in the first shot/sequence. He's living an unfulfilled life. He may not conciously want to put himself out there, but his heat-seeking missle wants a mate and that drives the picture.

    Now to pull it off myself...

  2. Your character's goal can be determined by the theme of the story.


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