WHAT DOES YOUR HERO WANT? #3: Longings & Needs

What does the hero of your story want?

Lots of things. And that’s the problem. Sifting through all those desires to pinpoint the ones that drive your story can be confusing and overwhelming. So in this series of articles I’m breaking down a hero’s primary goals to help you identify the ones that are essential, and how to manage them all while keeping your story simple and powerful.


#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