WHAT DOES YOUR HERO WANT? #3: Longings & Needs
#3: Longings & Needs
The Outer Motivation answers the question, “What is my hero’s visible goal?”
To discover your hero’s Inner Motivation ask, “Why does my hero want this?”
But when we first meet your hero in the opening setup of your story, before she begins pursing her outer or inner motivations, she may be expressing another desire: her Longing.
How many times do we say we’d give anything just to be rich or successful, or to follow our calling to be a writer or speaker or artist, or to find true love and happiness? But we don’t do everything we’d have to in order to achieve that dream, because we lack the one thing we need most: courage.
Your hero may have longed for some desire for a long time. Or rather she’s said that’s what she wants. The problem is, she’s just not doing anything to achieve it – or at least not anything that will ever lead her to what she longs for. Because risking what it would take to pursue this desire fully is just too scary.
So she’s relegated what she longs for to the realm of wishes, hopes and dreams.
Longings are the desires we’ll declare (at least to ourselves) whenever we throw coins in a fountain, tug on a wishbone or blow out candles. Whenever we say things like, “Here’s hoping!” or, “I just hope someday I can meet the right person,” we’re expressing a longing.
But if you think about the word hope, you realize there’s a sense of helplessness to it. All the power lies with some unseen force that might bless us or grant us our wishes if we’re just deserving enough or lucky enough. We make half-hearted efforts to achieve these desires, because we regard them as fantasies. Deep down we regard these desires as kind of silly – simply “more than we can hope for.”
Dreams are different than mere hopes (or we tell ourselves they are). We don’t just leave our dreams to chance and good fortune. We are definitely going after these desires…
We just have to wait until we have enough time or money or experience to dive in and really do it. As soon as the credit cards are paid off or the kids are grown or we’ve experienced enough books and seminars and webinars that we can be certain we won’t fail, then watch out – here we come!
It might be the same with your hero. He’ll settle for somedays that never come. But he’ll keep dreaming about what he longs for just the same.
Longing is my term for any of these wishes, hopes and dreams that characters only pay lip service to, because they’re too afraid to go after them. Their fears of failure or success, or of leaving their comfort zones, or of abandoning their protective identities, keep them stuck in a place of inertia, feeling safe but unfulfilled.
But what about the multitude of stories where the heroes don’t seem to want anything when we first meet them? They’re satisfied with their lives, thank you very much, and are just fine with the way things are.
They long for nothing.
If you look closely at these heroes, you can usually see that they’re stuck in some way, tolerating situations that keep them from realizing their potential. Something is missing from their lives, and even though they’re skating by, they’re holding themselves back from a fulfilled existence.
I describe these characters as having a need. They long for nothing, because they are too afraid to even admit they’re mired in their comfort zones.
If your hero has a need, she may be completely oblivious to how limiting her existence is – her ability to suppress her fear of change is that powerful.
Consider the two heroes of the latest incarnation of A Star Is Born.
In the screenplay by Eric Roth and Bradley Cooper & Will Fetters, Ally (Lady Gaga) longs to be a successful singer and songwriter. She’s dreamed of this since she was a little girl. But she exhibits her astonishing talent only when she performs in a small, hidden away drag queen bar. And she won’t sing her own songs anywhere. So her deep desire to be a star is relegated to the category of longing.
Jack (Bradley Cooper), on the other hand, longs for nothing. He acts as if his deepest desires for artistry are all behind him. But when we see the pained, addicted man this brilliant singer and songwriter has become, we recognize his desperate need for love, connection and forgiveness.
Revealing and exploring your heroes’ longings and suppressed needs will strengthen your stories’ impact on your readers and audiences. Because we can all relate to characters that want their lives to be better, but who delay going after what they really want because they’re afraid.
And when you take these heroes on journeys where they find the courage to fulfill their needs and longings, your followers will get a taste of their own hidden courage as well.
In the next chapter of this series I’ll discuss two desires your hero wants that he won’t avoid: his Preliminary Goal and his Ultimate Objective.
[Click below to read the previous articles in this series.]
WHAT DOES YOUR HERO WANT? #1: The Outer Motivation
WHAT DOES YOUR HERO WANT? #2: Inner Motivations
Hi Michael, thank you so much for these most insightful and helpful posts. I’m preparing to begin my Master of Scriptwriting here in NZ and your expertise is helping me immensely. Cheers, Maree
I have been checking out many of your stories and it’s pretty clever stuff.
I will surely bookmark your blog.
Hello, Michael! Big fan from Mexico! First of all I want to thank you for the help that you give out to all of the aspiring screenwriters like myself. Now I wanted to ask you this: what is the difference between longing & need and the inner motivation? Wouldn’t it be the same thing? I remember that in your book you have a chart where you say that Shrek wants to win Fiona’s love and the inner motivation is love. And here you explain that Jack’s character is in need for love. And I am guessing that a lot of characters have a visible outer motivation to achieve so they can fulfill their inner motivation which is success. Which ends up to be the same longing as Ally. Thank you and I hope that you could answer my question. Have a great day!
Again some incredible insights from your wealth of knowledge and experience. We truly can’t thank you enough for this priceless knowledge you’re sharing with us. God bless you always.
mind blowing article…i am a big fan of you…..
Thanks so much Michael for this laconic and at the same time comprehensive analysis.
Thanks to everyone for submitting such encouraging comments, and for all the emails and tweets and facebook messages I’ve received from others. It’s very gratifying, and exciting to me that you find these ideas and articles helpful. And to everyone, KEEP WRITING – and stay in your Essence….
Your examples of a hero’s longing are excellent and have helped me to realize why I am stuck in writing my story. Thanks Mr. Hauge.
Thank you, Michael.
I may have turned a corner tonight, realizing that what my heroine and hero do or do not do is less important to my story’s impact than what they actually long for, and their finding the courage to pursue that longing. Proverbs says, “A desire fulfilled is a tree of life, but hope deferred makes the heart sick.”
And that hope deferred is the real wound our heroes carry into their journey.
Thanks for your insight.
Jan, that’s a great way to look at it. Thanks!
So first of all, i have to find my courage and fulfill my needs and longings, right ?
Thank you very much, Sir!
If your longing is to be a writer, YES YOU DO! It’s a path to fulfillment for sure…
Your sensitivity and insight are wonderful. Thank you for sharing so clearly and giving us goals to aspire to. Some deep thinking challenges ahead. Great!!
All the best
Dear Mr. Hauge, Thank you so much for these. At the Maryland Writers Association conference last year (or, it could even have been the year before…) I took you up on your offer to look at the script I have been working on, and paid the special rate for a future look-see from you. But, so far, I haven’t been able to please myself enough with the script to send it on to you. These articles have been so helpful. I just wanted you to know that, although my progress is slow, finding you was well worth the price.
Ginny – Thanks for your gracious comments. But I think it’s time to stop worrying about pleasing me, yourself, or anyone else, and let me take a look at what you’ve got so I can help you move forward. The joy is in the journey…everything will follow.
This came at a perfect time for me, Michael! I’m considering goals right now for my protagonist, and this post was a great help. Thanks!
Come back and see us sometime . . .
Thanks, Martha! Please invite me back – going home to Oregon is always a joy for me.
Great teachings. I have followed you for years and appreciate all you have contributed to us writers. Thanks Michael.
Thank you thank you for those words. Something I was stuck on with my story has now clicked into place. My heartfelt thanks.
Longing is a potent word and an emotional one.
Wonderful discourse not just for my stories but for me. Thank you!