This is a question that, I swear, despite how obvious it is, new screenwriters rarely ask themselves before plunging into scriptwriting. Or, at least, they didn’t take the time to make sure that their answer to this question is a good one:
What does your protagonist want?
What are the goals, desires, and motivations of that individual?
What are the character’s needs, which propel the story forward?
I’m sure that all of my fellow TriggerStreet reviewers would agree with this statement: one of the biggest problems in amateur scripts is the simple fact that the goal of the protagonist is muddled. OR it’s a case where the protagonist has goals but isn’t acting on these goals by making decisions, taking action, and pushing the story forward. Almost all storytelling is a protagonist trying to achieve something that he/she wants but is up against forces of antagonism. Am I wrong?
Character goals can be simple or complicated, but they should always be clear. The goals can be long-term and/or short-term, tangible or intangible, physical, spiritual, emotional, or psychological. Robert McKee divided character goals into two categories: the Conscious Object of Desire and the Unconscious Object of Desire. Linda Seger divided character goals into three categories: Internal Goal, External Goal, and the Hidden Need. You can have goals that can be pinpointed on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (or goals that spring from one of the Seven Deadly Sins). Personally, I’ve always found creative inspiration in Maslow’s metaneeds, which are the needs of the self-actualizers at the very top of the chart (illustrated above) in order to be happy:
Truth, rather than dishonesty.
Goodness, rather than evil.
Beauty, not ugliness or vulgarity.
Unity, wholeness, and transcendence of opposites, not arbitrariness or forced choices.
Aliveness, not deadness or the mechanization of life.
Uniqueness, not bland uniformity.
Perfection and necessity, not sloppiness, inconsistency, or accident.
Completion, rather than incompleteness.
Justice and order, not injustice and lawlessness.
Simplicity, not unnecessary complexity.
Richness, not environmental impoverishment.
Effortlessness, not strain.
Playfulness, not grim, humorless, drudgery.
Self-sufficiency, not dependency.
Meaningfulness, rather than senselessness.
If you have characters living in extraordinary circumstances such as war or rural poverty, it probably won’t occur to them that they have metaneeds, because they worry about basic needs - getting enough food to eat and having a roof over their head. In fact, Maslow believes that much of what is wrong with the world comes down to the fact that very few people really are interested in these values.
Hence, the role of the artist.