I had a conversation with a friend of mine about her spec pilot. I couldn't figure out what her characters wanted. So there did not appear to be a plot.
When I brought it up to her, she told me that her characters don't know
what they want.
But this is a different kind of "want." Really there are two kinds of ways a character can want.
There's a global want that defines a character, often in relation to the other characters. Lucy wants Ricky to be proud of her. Ross wants Rachel to think he's cool. Spock wants to be acknowledged as a fully logical Vulcan, in spite of his ancestry.
Then there's a specific want that creates a plot. Lucy wants to be a stenographer. Ross wants to impress his fellow paleontologists by a giving a speech. Spock wants to stop an evil Romulan from destroying Earth.
The two wants can be in line, or they can conflict. But you need both. Without a global want, your character has no drive. Without a specific want, your character has no story.
Of course both wants should be strong, compelling wants, or who cares?
Labels: elements of story
I think saying "The character doesn't know what she wants" is a cop-out. If you're the writer, you know things the character doesn't know, so even if the character doesn't know what she wants, you do.
This makes the character's motivation more interesting. "Barney doesn't know it yet, but his true desire is to be with Robin." "As much as Apollo thinks it doesn't matter to him, deep down, he truly wants the approval of his father."
I agree on the cop-out comment. Characters may not know what they want on a conscious level, but the writer should know, and the audience should too. Everyone wants something, even if it's just to be left alone.
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