WHAT DOES YOUR HERO WANT? #1: The Outer Motivation
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 six sequential articles, I’m going to break 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.
#1: The Outer Motivation
I’m beginning with the Outer Motivation, not because it appears first, but because it is essential.
This is the hero’s goal that will define your story, determine its structure, and keep your audiences (or readers, viewers and prospects) engaged and invested in your hero’s success.
I use the term Outer Motivation because this desire is outwardly visible. But don’t worry about the jargon. Just think of it as the finish line your hero is desperate to cross.
The outer motivation is not a feeling (happiness), or an abstract concept (success), or some ongoing condition (health). It’s a specific goal that your audiences can envision as soon as they read or hear what it is. And that image is pretty much the same for everyone you’re addressing.
Common visible goals in stories are winning a competition (The Karate Kid), winning the love of another character (Titanic), stopping some threat (Black Panther), escaping from a bad situation (Get Out), rescuing a person or a group in danger (Taken), and retrieving something of value (Raiders of the Lost Ark).
If you’re a consultant, entrepreneur or public speaker, your story might be about how you won a major client using your marketing process; how your financial advice helped a client stop the foreclosure of her house; what life lesson you learned when you escaped from an avalanche; or how you got back (retrieved) a major client you had lost.
In my 35+ years of consulting with professional storytellers and business leaders, the two biggest problems I encounter are 1) their stories are way too complicated; and 2) there is no clear outer motivation for the heroes of their stories.
Almost any other weakness in your own stories can be traced back to one of those two issues. But once you have clearly defined your hero’s outer motivation and clarified that visible goal, everything else in your story can fall into place.
Part 2 of this series will reveal a second form of desire: your hero’s Inner Motivation.
#2: Inner Motivations
#3: Longings & Needs
#4: Preliminary Goals and Ultimate Objectives
#5: The Desire for Sameness
#6: Revealing Your Hero’s Desires
Not All Heroes Wear Capes, check out Your Everyday Heroes – Stories of people who are the living embodiment of inspiration. From mechanics to motivational speakers and everywhere in between. There is no shortage of astonishing and inspiring stories to be told!
Let’s take an example of Erin Brokwitch movie, if Erin happens to be a husband whose only daughter died of cancer so his outer motivation is to seize the PG plant so more cancer patients don’t arise in the region but at the same time his other motivation is to adopt a child for his depressed wife ( due to complications or age factor she can’t conceive). Can these motivation go altogether as both are related or it will make the story confused.
Thank you sr.
Thank you so much for your article sir….its very nice…
Keep it up…
This was a great article Michael. Excellent reminder on having a visible, clear goal for the protagonist and not just going in circles his/her interior motivations. Thanks
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I can now see how I am over-complicating my Protagonist’s Outer Goal. Example “A Detective who want to find her father, takes a case to find a religious relic…” The case leads to a final confrontation with her father but I am hearing in pitches to lose the goal of the religious relic.
It will take a rewrite to re-orchestrate the story but should produce a more clear journey.
On to #2!
Thank you for these lessons, Michael!
Mike W. Rogers
Michael, you are a wonderful communicator. Thanks for reminding us on the most important aspect of storytelling, and narrative drive – giving the hero a clear and visible goal. Or as Blake Snyder wrote, “Save the Cat”.
I’m really looking forward to the rest of this series.
Thank you so much, Michael! Your gems are always timely and much appreciated.
Michael, you are amazing. Just the reminder I needed, arriving at the time when I needed it most. Thank you!!
your book and this blog are a real eye opener for me. But they also make me doubt what I’ve allready have written.
how many successive outer motivations can your hero have? Is it all right if his global outer motivation is “to be who he is, stay himself, and be left alone”?
In order to maintain that position, he must overcome several smaller obstacles: first stop a bully. When that is done, a second obstacle is to deal with his schoolteachers and grades, a third is something else that has no link to the previous obstacles.. and so on? Or does this become to episodic? What the would be a better outer motivation?
Can there be “good” obstacles like survive a birthday party if you don’t want all the fuzz? It fits the overal outer motivation but feels kind of contradictory.
I think if you wait until the entire series on the hero’s desires is posted, it will clarify a lot of your questions. In the meantime, just focus on the idea that your hero needs one clearly defined VISIBLE goal that will be resolved at the climax of your story. “to be who he is, stay himself, and be left alone” is neither visible nor specific. He may be doing those things when introduced, but then something must happen to moves him to action, and leads to a desire for something we can envision. For example, if he decides he wants to win a spelling bee, or win a girl’s heart, or run away to Oregon to live with his father, your readers will have something to root for, and your story will me stronger and more emotionally involving.
Hope that helps.
Thank you, very useful! Looking forward for more tips!
Number one reason why
I refuse to write
A biographical screenplay
When I can mine, six anyday
When situations simplify
Thanks Michael! I need reminders of these lessons. Who knows when I will write …
Thanks for this. I’m having trouble on a scene in my WIP. Probably a goal thing.
Priscilla (and everyone) –
It’s ALWAYS a goal thing. Whenever you get stuck or lost in the thicket of your plot, or are having problems with a scene, all roads lead toward your hero’s Outer Motivation. Get clear about what that is, then make certain every scene in your story either moves your hero closer to that goal, or creates more obstacles to achieving it. When that happens, most of your other issues will fall into place.
Let us know if that helps.
In the folktale the outer motivation is so clear. It is a good practice to read them. I am working on a Mexican tale in which a young man (the youngest son) is without land as it went to his older brothers. He longs for land of his own and is willing to suffer mocking and trials to get it.
Can ‘t wait for the rest of the article!!
Thanks, Michael. As always, you’ve made me think.
Great article. Simple, concise, gets the message of what the outer motivation is.
Doesn’t it change part way through, or can it change as the story progresses and certain conflicts arise?
Thanks, Mark. I will talk about how the hero’s goal changes in later articles in this series. And for a deeper discussion of this issue, see my article “Changing Your Hero’s Goal” (https://storymastery.com/story/changing-heros-goal/).
Remarkably clear and to the point. A nice template to hold my stories up to and see how well they match up.
Thanks, William. Eager to hear how you like the rest of the articles in the series.
Each day I go through Michael Haugue’s articles, I feel more confident about composing selling stories and I’m confident that 2019 is the year of breakthrough. Watch the space. Many thanks Mike.
We’ll be watching, Bokang. Thanks for your kind words.