Dave Trottier is a produced screenwriter, award-winning teacher, acclaimed script consultant, author of The Screenwriter’s Bible, and friendly host of keepwriting.com. Follow Dave on Twitter: @DRTrottier.
Conventional wisdom suggests that there must be a clear goal and an antagonist, but I don’t buy it. I’ve seen many movies where there appears to be neither a concrete goal nor an antagonist. Take GOOD WILL HUNTING. The movie seems completely driven by Will’s need to love himself before he can be close to others. And the opposition is his own character flaws. Where’s the goal and opposition?
That is a great question. In character-driven stories, the need always supersedes the goal. There are many movies where the goal is very thin or practically non-existent. In STAND BY ME, the goal is to find the body.
In the case of GOODWILL HUNTING, the overall goal is to avoid action or change, and maintain the status quo; but he has several small action goals, intentions, or desires throughout the movie. For example, he wants to put the arrogant college dude in his place and get Minnie Driver’s phone number. That scene is driven by a goal that reveals something of his character.
Also, notice that there are at least two opposition characters. Robin Williams — and to a lesser degree, Minnie Drive — oppose his goal/desire/intention to remain undiscovered and closed off from others and his own goodness (thus, maintain the status quo).
In addition, Robin Williams is opposed by a colleague. And then, in individual scenes, you have the arrogant college dude, the university professor, and Will’s best friend as opposition characters. In other words, virtually everyone has an intention, desire, or goal of some sort, providing plenty of conflict. But you’re right, at the core of the story is Will’s need.
Your need (and goal) is to write a great story and gain the good will of an agent or producer.
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