WHAT DOES YOUR HERO WANT? #4: Preliminary Goals and Ultimate Objectives

Defining your hero’s Outer Motivation can sometimes seem confusing because it can easily be mistaken for two of your hero’s other desires: his Preliminary Goal and his Ultimate Objective.

The key to understanding these distinctions is to ask two defining questions:

1) “When in my story will these desires be resolved?”

2) “Do any of these desires establish a specific, visible finish line?”

The Preliminary Goal always occurs early in the story, before your hero begins taking action toward his outer motivation. After you’ve introduced your hero in the Setup of your story, you will present him with a specific opportunity or crisis – an unexpected event that will force him to respond.

Depending on the kind of story you’re telling, this might be the loss of a job or a loved one, learning about some competition with a big prize, the discovery of a dead body or an alien space ship, or meeting the person of his dreams.

Immediately your hero wants to do something about this event. And this preliminary goal will always involve your hero asking himself, “Now what will I do? What is this new situation I’ve entered? What are the rules? What is expected of me? What do I want? And who will help me?”

In A Star Is Born, Jack’s opportunity appears when he first hears Ally (Lady Gaga) sing. But he doesn’t immediately walk up to her and say, “I want to make you a star and win your love.” His preliminary goal is to figure out, “Who is this woman? What is she like? Why is she singing in this club? What are her dreams? And should I pursue her – either professionally or romantically?”

For the hero of your story, figuring out how to react to the opportunity and solve his problem has no clear endpoint. We can’t envision what it will look like because we don’t know what the answers to his questions will be. But in discovering the answers, your hero will determine his specific goal – his Outer Motivation. And as soon as he begins taking action to achieve that desire, the preliminary goal is resolved.

The Ultimate Objective is trickier. It’s the final destination your hero wants to reach. But it is usually broad and generalized: he wants to be wealthy; he wants to rise to the top of his profession; he wants to make the world safe; he wants to find true love.

In Game Night, Max (Jason Bateman) wants to outshine his much more successful brother. But that eventual goal doesn’t have the clear finish line that his outer motivation (to rescue his brother from the people who want to kill him) does.

And in the original Star Wars*, Luke’s ultimate objective is to become a Jedi knight and help defeat the Empire. But his outer motivation is to learn the force and ultimately destroy the death star.

In a business or marketing story, a preliminary goal might be for your hero to find someone to help him keep his company from going bankrupt.

His ultimate objective could be to someday make enough money to buy a vacation home.

Those two desires would lead to his outer motivation/visible goal for your story: to increase his total revenue to $50,000 in three months.

Whether you’re writing a movie, novel, speech or blog, your hero’s long-term desire might be identical to the longing he revealed in the setup of your story.

But once your hero starts pursuing his outer motivation, that desire is no longer just a hope or a dream, because now he’s taking action to achieve it. And his Outer Motivation will be a step toward achieving that long term, Ultimate Objective.

In the next installment of this series I’ll examine one additional goal: the Desire for Sameness.

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

* I know, it’s properly referred to as Star Wars Part IV: A New Hope. But I was lucky enough to see it before it opened, and it’ll always just be Star Wars to me.