What motivates the protagonist in your story? The very character that ought to be relentlessly driven?
In The Others, Grace Stewart wants to keep her children and herself safe in their large house until her husband returns from the war. She keeps the curtains drawn and the doors locked, never venturing outside. But strange things keep happening. Doors are heard opening and closing. Curtains are being pulled open. Strange voices are heard.
In The Land Below, Paulie is determined to reach the surface in search of freedom. In The Nostalgia of Time Travel, Benjamin is obsessed with solving an intractable mathematical equation. Jack’s desire in Scarab, is to undo Emma’s death. Often, clear and conscious desires are enough to drive the story forward.
But truly good stories do not only pit the protagonist against external obstacles. Good stories pit the external against the internal.
“What motivates the protagonist is the conflict between her want and her need, a conflict she doesn’t acknowledge until the end of the story.”
Stories achieve this by hiding a need in the protagonist that is at odds with the want that lies on the conscious level. Think of the protagonist having a conscious desire as his want, and an unconscious requirement for happiness as his need. What drives the drama is the conflict between the two. This conflict is resolved only when the protagonist comes to realise that his need, not his want, is his true goal. Indeed, it is this very recognition that proves that the character has grown and is ready to move on.
In The Others, Grace needs to discover the metaphysical truth about herself and her children. Only then can she identify her true goal.
In The Nostalgia of Time Travel, Benjamin is able to move on from a life of regret and stasis only when he realises that his salvation lies not through mathematical solutions to impossible problems but in forgiving himself. In Scarab, Jack is able to save the woman he loves only through sacrifice – by walking away from the relationship he so desperately desires.
Stories, driven by the tension between what the protagonist wants and what he needs, fascinate, deepening the tale.
Good stories are driven by the tension between what the protagonist wants and what he needs.
For my latest YouTube video on how to use metaphors in stories click on this link!