Thursday, May 30, 2019
What does the hero want?
Why they want these things—the motivations behind these goals—are interesting and complex enough to fill a book, but it’s the characters acting to achieve these goals, fulfill their wants, that supports a story where we get to ask them why they want it in the first place.
Characters can change what they want later on, that’s fine, but active characters are the ones who’ve set out to do something. They succeed or fail, but dammit, they try. That trying is the muscle of the story. Wanting that luring goal is what keeps them and the narrative moving. Taking a ring back to a mountain, helping a friend take a ring back to a mountain, getting the ring back so I’m not alone, my precious, are good examples of simple wants that motivate character to act. Without those wants, simple and plain as these are, the characters wouldn’t leave the shire (or the cave) and we’d have to Deus Ex Machina their butts into gear if we want more than a mood piece.
To borrow from Tony Flaner again, there’s a the push and the pull. If the action is thrust upon them, that’s reactive—the push. “Run there are dark baddies chasing us.” Once the character chooses to do something, that’s active—the pull. “I will recycle this ring because someone needs to do it.” Both function, but which is heroic?
Ay, there’s the rub.
What if we apply this simple self examination and story telling device to real life? What if I ask myself, what do I want? Then I carry it on to you. What do you want? Look at anyone, can you get a handle on them by figuring out their goal is? Hell yes. They want money, a girl, health, a puppy. It is a powerful tool when applied to others, but let’s face it, it is terrifying when applied to ourselves.
In the story of our own lives, are we the protagonist or a side character? A walk on? An extra? Background noise? Are we an actor or a reactor?
Are we our hero?
It’s scary to think about.