If your hero has no desire, if no goal is clearly defined, then the story will have no purpose and it will die before it has gone anywhere.
This can often happen if the writer hasn’t planned things out before they sit down to scribble out their story. Just writing and seeing where your muse takes you is a great method, but you must be careful when using this free form style, or your story will appear limp and lifeless.
Desire: The Spine Of The Story
When you create a clear, definable goal for your hero, you are giving your story a “spine.” The spine of the story is also referred to as the Desire Line. The desire line forms the hero’s quest.
Often overlooked, this aspect of writing is one of the most important things to consider when creating a story. Always give your hero a crystal clear goal to pursue. The audience must know what it is and they must know when the hero has reached the goal.
While there are many causes of broken stories, one of the most common ways to destroy your story is to not give the hero a quest to pursue. One of the chief purposes at the start of a story is to create a goal for the hero – a character desire.
Mysteries always have a very clearly defined goal (such as trying to catch a criminal). A strong story spine makes a tale more interesting, it is easier to follow and the story is more satisfying to the audience.
Hero vs. Opponent
Both the hero and the opponent should have a desire. Try to think of your story as these two adversaries competing over the same goal, rather than the hero trying to do something while the opponent tries to stop him. If you don’t give your opponent a goal, then he will appear weaker, and this will in turn, cause your hero to become weaker. Strong antagonists always make your hero look good.
Too Many Goals
Be careful not to give your hero too many desires. All of the steps along the way should point towards a single main goal. Otherwise, you could fracture your story.
When you are telling an “A” story and a “B” story, try to think of ways to connect the storylines. One story should influence the other.
Desire & Counter-Desire
In some stories, the hero will have a desire and also a counter-desire. Think of the Bourne Initiative. Jason Bourne’s goal is to discover who he is. His counter-desire is to escape from his past. The closer he gets to learning about his past, the closer the villains come to killing him. This sets up a strong push-pull motion in the story.
Here is how to set up a desire line for your story.
1. In the opening stages of your story, give your hero a clear goal.
2. Also give the antagonist a goal to put them in conflict.
3. How are the hero and opponent pursuing the same goal?
4. Is your hero’s desire clear?
5. Does your hero have a single goal?
Give Your Story A Spine
Get out a piece of paper and write down the main goal for the hero. Then write down the antagonist’s goal. Keep this in mind throughout the writing process.
The easiest way to fix a story is to go back to the desire line.
– Mark O’Bannon