WHAT DOES YOUR HERO WANT? #6: Revealing Your Hero’s Desires

Let’s finish this series by going through all the types of desires we’ve discussed, making certain that they don’t get confusing.

I want to present them in the logical sequence you might reveal them in your stories, giving you suggestions for how to employ them and where they overlap.

I’m using writer/director Edgar Wright’s screenplay for BABY DRIVER, one of my very favorite films from last year, as my example in this final article in the series. BABY DRIVER wasn’t as widely seen as my previous examples in this series, but I’m hoping this article will encourage you to watch it. It’s fun, exciting, suspenseful, romantic, and has some of the best integration of music and action I’ve ever seen. My comments about how it illustrates the various forms of desire will be in boxes like this throughout.


What is your hero’s BIG WANT? What is the overarching goal that she wants someday, that will determine the individual goals that are steppingstones to that final state of success and happiness? What are the Ultimate Outcomes your hero is striving for (or plans to strive for) when we first meet her?

Eventually, your hero will begin pursuing a specific, visible Outer Motivation that will determine the climax of your story. But that visible desire is one the hero hopes will move her closer to this ultimate outcome.

I mention the Ultimate Outcome first because your hero usually carries this big desire into the story from the beginning. It’s probably existed since before your story begins.

Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a getaway driver and part of a gang of thieves working for their boss Doc (Kevin Spacey). He’s paying off a debt to Doc, while taking care of Joseph (C.J. Jones), a paraplegic who is something of a father figure to Baby. But Baby dreams of someday being able to live free of that obligation, no longer a criminal, and able to provide a better life for Joseph. This is his ultimate outcome.

Often, storytellers I work with mistakenly identify this desire as their hero’s defining outer motivation. But it can’t be, because it’s too broad, too vague, or too far into the future.

Your audiences can understand a character wanting to reach a life goal. But it’s hard to formulate sharp, vivid images of wealth, power, happy families, legacies, or a better world for all mankind.

These larger goals can motivate your hero toward their actions in your story. But it’s possible your hero is simply paying lip service to them rather than taking any real action to achieve them. If so these ultimate outcomes also fall into the category of…


In the setup of your story, when you first introduce your hero, give us a sense of what’s missing from his life – what needs to change for him to lead a fulfilled life.

If your hero longs for something, give him dialogue that announces that, or have another character say something that alludes to it. Then show us how the hero is avoiding pursuing this desire, or how his plan for obtaining it is a conscious or subconscious, misguided attempt.

Perhaps he is wishing or hoping for it, or insisting he’ll dive in and get busy just as soon as something else in his life is fully resolved.

Or perhaps he claims – or actually believes – that his life is just fine, or at least as good as he’ll ever be able to make it. Instead of declaring a longing, he hides an unacknowledged need. “Things are fine,” or, “This is about as much as I can hope for,” are statements indicating that your hero’s need has been completely ignored or suppressed.

Baby tries to convince Joseph that things are fine, that he will soon step away from his criminal activities, and that there is no threat from Doc, Doc’s gang, or the law. But these empty promises are simply longings. He can’t really promise any of these things, because until he stands up to Doc and takes responsibility for his past actions, he’ll never have the life he says he wants.


Revealing your hero’s longing or need allows you to explore her inner journey – her transformation from living in fear to living courageously. These missing pieces in her life are the first sign that what she deeply wants or needs is overpowered by her desire for sameness.

Because of some wound in the past – some traumatic event, some painful situation, or some belief instilled by parents or groups or society in general – your hero has created a protective identity to avoid the pain she is certain will befall her if she risks letting her guard down. This emotional armor is her comfort zone – the boundary she can’t allow herself to cross.

Sadly, a life of real fulfillment, connection and individuation lies on the other side of that wall – out of reach as long as your hero is controlled by her fear. Her desire to keep things the same as they are – even if her circumstances are intolerable – keeps her safe, but stuck.

No matter how much Baby claims he wants his life to change, a part of him is afraid to leave behind his identity as a thief and getaway driver. He sounds sincere enough, and he tells himself escape is his desire, what he won’t or can’t admit is that he feels secure staying on Doc’s good side, but he gets off on the danger and excitement of racing away from the cops, and he’s afraid of the consequences of admitting his illegal actions. The headset he wears to drown out his tinnitus also allows him (at least subconsciously) to escape from the real world reality of what he’s doing.

A character stuck in a desire for sameness will never be truly happy – at least not until she starts pursuing her outer motivation. When she does that, she’ll begin a journey that will force her to let go of her protective identity and find her courage.


Once you’ve introduced your hero and established his longing or need, introduce some opportunity or crisis into his life. He will have to respond, giving him a Preliminary Goal – a desire to figure out, “What should I do about this?” and then act on that desire.

Your hero must decide what this event means, what problem it creates, what solutions are open to him, what the consequences of any new action might be, and who might help him out of this new situation.

Two events occur after the setup of our hero: Baby meets Debora (Lily James), a waitress in a diner, and Doc announces his plans for the gang to rob an armored car. This creates two preliminary goals for Baby – to plan for the robbery – and figure out what to do when it goes sideways – and to get to know Debra better. This is his period of entering and exploring these new “worlds” he’s entered, and deciding how to react to these new situations.

The pursuit of this preliminary goal may take your hero down some wrong paths, and will likely lead him to an ally who will help him define the right goal, formulate his plan, and eventually guide him to victory. (In creating a case study/success story for business, this guide should be you, your service or your product.)

This preliminary goal will result in your hero defining and declaring his…


This is the clearly defined outcome your hero wants to achieve, the desire that your readers and viewers are rooting for your hero to accomplish.

While we’ve already seen Baby involved in two different robberies, his outer motivations are established when he is forced by Doc to do one last big job – provide getaway for another bank robbery – and when he starts to date Debora. His specific, visible goals are now to get away with the bank robbery, and to win the love of (be in a permanent, committed relationship with) Debora.

[It is not uncommon for a love story to contain two outer motivations for the hero: the visible goal (usually work related) that defines the hook of the story, and the visible goal of winning the love of the romance character. When this happens, these two goals must always be in conflict with each other. For Baby, this dilemma occurs when Doc and other members of the gang threaten to kill Debora if Baby doesn’t cooperate.]

Your hero wants to achieve his outer motivation because he believes it will satisfy his…


This is the invisible desire for self worth that your hero thinks will be his if he can achieve that visible goal he’s striving for.

If he believes winning this battle or stopping this threat or marrying the woman of his dreams will lead to a sense of acceptance or belonging or love or retribution or success or power, then one of those constitutes his inner motivation.

Baby’s inner motivation for completing the bank robbery (his path to self worth) is that he believes it will bring him the freedom and escape from his life of crime he dreams of. His inner motivation for pursuing Debora is simply love – also a path to self worth.

When your hero takes his first step toward achieving his outer motivation, his preliminary goal is in the past, and now he is on the singular path to achieving what he wants. Now you must force your hero to face and overcome the obstacles in his way – both external conflicts that come from enemies and forces of nature, and the inner conflict that grows out of his dueling desires for achievement and sameness.

And when he wins – when all of these desires have been resolved — his journey, and that of your readers and viewers and listeners, is over.


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