Join Mark Tapio Kines for an in-depth discussion in this video Your characters's desires, part of Learning Screenwriting.
Drama is all about desire, what people want and what they do in order to get what they want. And all the desires in the world can be divided into two simple groups, the desire for change and the desire for no change. Everything a person does is influenced by one of the two, if they're rich and happy, then they want no change, they want to continue being rich and happy. So, everything they do will be to keep their situation from changing, but if they're poor and unhappy, then they want change. So, everything they do will be to try to make that change happen. Remember, this basic dichotomy of change versus no change, no matter whether your protagonist is pursuing their scene desire, their story desire, or their lifelong dream. These are three basic desires that every protagonist should have. Now I am going to explain what they mean. A Lifelong Dream is when your protagonist wants to have a nice little house someday, or sail around the world someday, the key word is someday. So, although it's nice to give your protagonist the lifelong dream, as it gives their character a little depth, there is no urgency in this desire, and because there's no urgency, there's no suspense in whether it happens or not. That makes this desire fundamentally non-dramatic. So just introduce it in Act 1 and mention it once in a while after that. After the event when all the major conflicts are resolved, you can finally revisit this dream and reveal whether or not it's going to come true. The Story Desire is much more significant, it's the biggest and most important thing your protagonist wants to accomplish in your script. It's what leads us to the event, it should be specific, urgent, and tangible, like defeating the bad guy, or winning the contest, or getting out of jail. Because this desire is established by the story itself, it's not revealed until the drama kicks in. And that doesn't happen until the Routine Killer, which I'll talk about shortly, or even the end of Act 1, but after that point the story desire is behind everything your protagonist says or does, it's their number-one goal at all times. Before I talk about the scene desire, let me address what I call Intangible Goals. Intangible goals are what you might come up with when you haven't figured out what your protagonist actually wants. And so instead of something like they want to destroy the asteroid or they want to catch the criminal, you say your protagonist wants something vague, like to be respected or to be happy. These goals are wimpy and non-dramatic, you have to make them explicit and concrete. Define these goals in tangible real-world terms. If the character wants respect, then define that respect as a job promotion, a rave review, a prestigious award, or so on. If they want to be happy, then define that happiness as getting married, paying off the debt, or starting their own business, never keep it vague. Now the most important desire you can represent in your story is also the most underrated one. This is the Scene Desire, it's what your protagonist or any character wants to accomplish in any given scene in your script. You have probably heard the old line where the actor is asking the director, what's my motivation? It's become a gag, but the question is valid. A lot of screenwriters forget about this because they are too busy trying to make big statements. But scripts become movies, and movies are filmed on a scene-by-scene basis. Actors live in the moment, so should your characters. If your protagonist story desire is to solve a mystery, then each scene desire feeds into that story desire. You might be trying to get information out of a witness, that's their goal for that scene. They might be trying to steal a secret file, that's their goal for that scene. The story desire is still the driving force behind all this, but at that particular moment in the script, the scene desire is front and center. Keep the scene desire in mind whenever you write an interaction between two characters. What does each person want out of this interaction? If the answer is nothing, then you need to give them something. If your protagonist is talking about their childhood, don't write it just because you think it adds some shading to their character, make it so your protagonist is trying to achieve something by talking about their childhood. Maybe they want someone to pity them, give them money, or go out with them. It might sound cynical, but that's how drama works. There has to be a motivation for every character at every time, and that goes double for your protagonist. Scene desire keeps your screenplay active and suspenseful, make sure they remain one of your top priorities and your script will feel much more alive.
- Finding the drama in your story idea
- Structuring your story into three acts
- Defining your protagonist's short-term and long-term goals
- Creating obstacles for your characters
- Understanding the importance of suspense
- Timing your plot twists
- Formatting your script
- Registering for a copyright