Monday, January 27, 2014

Your Story Protagonist

Before you sit down to write a screenplay or a novel, you need to come up with a story. What is story? Story is how your idea is developed through the use of character, words and action. There are two story lines, approaches to help you avoid the one-dimensional pitfall most common with creating a story. And that's the purpose of posting this article today.

• Outer Motivation

•Inner Motivation

Outer and Inner Motivation are extremely important to a story entertainment and thematic value.

To achieve this balance in your writing, the main character, or protagonist of your story, must be involved in 'two story lines'. One story will deal with his/ or her inner motivation. The inner and the outer stories are fleshed out through conflict and theme. Let's take a look at the two elements.


Stories which focus a lot on action seem to be petty, while those that focus a lot on character seems to be lifeless. The finest stories avoid the pitfall with story creation by developing clearly defined action and realistic, rounded characters.

Outer Motivation

The term OUTER MOTIVATION is commonly used because the goal of your protagonist is outwardly apparent to the audience as they watch the action on the screen or read a novel.  In other words, outer motivation does not involve the desire for invisible, inner qualities. The outer motivation is about the protagonist clear goal. It is important for the protagonist because it gives the story direction and purpose. This goal must be solid and manifests itself in physical action of the protagonist. It must be clear to the audience. The outer motivation is resolved when the protagonist succeeds or fails at achieving his / or her goal.

The outer motivation provides most of your story entertainment value. It moves it forward by keeping the audience expectant of the story outcome. Without a solid outer motivation, there is miniature motion and the outcome is a dull story.

In the Wizard of Oz, for example, the outer motivation of the lead character was to get back home before he changes to stay back and protect a woman he met.
Your Protagonist desire must have a clearly implied endpoint.

Not only do we see the protagonist pursue the goal throughout movies and novels, we can easily imagine what achieving the goal will look like. We know when we watch Con Air that we will ultimately see a showdown between the hero and the villain. We may not know all the details, or exactly where and how it will occur, but we know that the outcome will resolve the story.

When you write a screenplay or a novel, you are taking the readers on a journey. But this isn’t one of those trips where you jump in the car and say, “Let’s just go for a drive and see where we end up.” In a story creation, you are subconsciously telling the audience, “I’m taking you to this specific destination. I won’t tell you all the roadblocks we’ll encounter, or all the sights you’ll see along the way, but I promise that when the story is over, you’ll be here.”

Think of your story as a race. Your protagonist is trying desperately to reach the finish line before some other character or force of nature can stop him / or her. If you don’t tell audience where the finish line is, how will they know what to root for? How will they even know when the story is over? (Yes, I know the credits will come on, but how exciting is that?)

Your Protagonist must actively pursue his goal.

Your story characters can’t simply sit around talking about how much they’d like to have money, success, or the love of a beautiful woman. They must take control of their lives and use every ounce of strength, courage and intelligence they have to rob the bank, stop the serial killer, or win the love of the prom queen.

Nor can your protagonist simply watch other characters pursue a goal, or allow others to pursue them without reacting. By definition, the protagonist is the character whose desire defines the plot of the story.

Passive protagonists destroy interest and emotion. How can we root for someone who takes no action? Your protagonist can be passive at the beginning of your story, but before too long, he / or she has to declare, “I WANT THAT!” and go after the goal.

As a writer always have it at the back of your mind that the outer motivation is about a solid physical goal that must manifests itself in the actions of your protagonist

Inner Motivation

Inner motivation is about the protagonist's inner need, that is flaws. It is not fully identified by the protagonist despite the fact that it rules the negative way he treats himself and the people that care about him. The inner motivation of your protagonist can have envy, lack of dignity, selfishness, etc. And it is resolved when the protagonist identifies and overcomes it.

How do you distinguish outer motivation from some of your protagonist inner desires and get the audience involved in the two story lines?

In my upcoming novella The Seamstress Daughter, a heartbroken mother wants to get revenge (invisible) on the rival of her late daughter for snatching her husband and killing her and her baby. This instills in this woman a visible desire to destroy the rival. It is destroying this rival that drives the story forward, gives it a clearly defined endpoint, and keeps the audience emotionally involved.

The inner motivation is usually caused by a traumatic experience in the protagonist past. It is ultimately about relationships. It is how character and theme are explored. In my screenplay And There is Blood, Victoria's inner story is about her transformation into a heartless killer, killing her offender, family members and the cops.   

The inner story is about a character flaw relationships and theme

Your Protagonist must put everything on the line to achieve the desire

Again, the more passionate, determined and courageous your protagonist is in pursuit of his / or her quest, the greater the audience’s own emotional involvement, and the greater their elation when he succeeds.

This principle is fairly evident in action movies and thrillers like Terminator 3, X Men 2, or Panic Room, where heroes put their lives on the line to save the world, stop the bad guys or escape from danger. But it’s also true in any successful love story or comedy. The Robin Williams character in The Birdcage risks embarrassment, humiliation, self-esteem, the loss of his lover and the loss of his own son’s love and happiness in his attempt to convince his future in-laws that he’s a straight man.

And in romantic comedies and love stories like Sleepless In Seattle, Good Will Hunting, and As Good As It Gets, the protagonists must take the greatest emotional risk of all: exposing themselves to rejection, fear and pain as they let go of identities that have brought them a lifetime of protection. But they find the courage to put everything on the line as they pursue their love and their destiny.

Your protagonist’s desire must be resolved at the climax of your story

You may add ambiguous elements to your story, and even leave your protagonist with an uncertain future. But you must resolve both the Outer and Inner Motivations by the end of the story be it screenplay or novel. Your readers and audience have spent two hours rooting for your protagonist to achieve these compelling desires. You can’t now leave them hanging and expect your script/novel to either advance your career or transform your audience.

So if you have been brewing a story in your head for a long time, consider these two elements (outer and inner motivation).

As you pour out the words onto the pages to begin developing your story, keep your protagonist outward goal and flaws in mind. Ask your protagonist what he wants to achieve so badly, what is his flaws, and what was it in the past that caused it. This gives you a direction to write a complex character.


Go out there and rent three movies. With your paper and pen with you, sit down to watch. As you watch the movies one by one pay close attention to the lead characters outward goals and flaws. Note how the writers achieved their protagonists' goals and resolved their flaws. If given the effort to this approach, by far, you will have better understanding of this powerful elements and it will take you to a better story.

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