Story – Robert McKee's Creative Storytelling Magazine Issue 005 – Drew Carey - Page 43

CHARACTER CREATION In addition to what my character wants, what does my character need? Desire and need are not the same thing. Every day you suggest—the two terms are often synonymous, but in the writer’s vocabulary, desire and need are two very different ideas. So first, definitions: character desire. We’ve looked a good deal at desire, but let’s take our understanding of desire even further. A desire is an energetic intention aimed at something that exists outside the character’s private self. In all stories, the protagonist has at least one conscious desire. In many complex characters, this conscious desire conflicts with a subconscious desire as well. If, for example, you were to poll aside Danny Archer, Leonardo DiCaprio’s protagonist from the film Blood Diamond, and whisper in Archer’s ear, “Danny. You can tell me, kid. What do you want?” Danny would tell you his conscious desire. Danny knows what Danny wants, or at least he thinks he knows, and he knows what he wants at this moment, next week, in his life. Danny believes that in this lawless world, it’s every man for himself. He wants to steal an enormous diamond so he can leave Africa and live somewhere else in style. Consciously Danny wants riches, but only for himself. Yet at the climax of this story, Danny is faced with a dilemma: A choice between himself and another man and that poor man’s family. He chooses to sacrifice himself and save the other man, because at heart, Danny is far more selfless than selfish. His unconscious desire has always been to do the moral thing, the right thing, and his moral desire struggling against his immoral desire has been pulling him apart throughout the adventure until his subconscious desire finally triumphs. Desire, however, conscious or subconscious, does not move through the story in a straight line, of course. Once the inciting incident has thrown the protagonist’s life out of balance, the major character desire for his object of desire comes to life. The protagonist pursues his object of desire, and to reach it, he struggles against the forces of antagonism—what he wants versus obstacle after obstacle that blocks his pursuit. Each action he takes, beat by beat, scene by scene, sequence by sequence, act by act, demands a new conscious desire of the moment, what he must do at that moment to match each new confrontation. So it goes, turning point by turning point, as his story’s progressive events zigzag from positive charge to negative charge, ending at story climax. Out of this final event, the protagonist either gets his object of desire or fails to get it. The end. Story Magazine // Issue 005 That is desire in action: the pursuit of something that exists outside the conscious private self. Next, let me define character need. A major character need is something that does not exist within a specific character. I define character need as a lacking inside of the self—a missing part, in fact, a critical but absent quality. In other words, the character has a hole in his humanity. The ideal human being would have this quality, but this particular character lacks it. Again, ideally, that emptiness should be filled, but it may stay vacuous throughout the character’s life, unless, as in so many wonderful stories, something comes along that gives the character a chance to fill the hole in his humanity, to complete his nature. For example, a famous redemption plot, Sylvester Stallone’s classic tale of Rocky, 1976. At the beginning of the film, Rocky wallows in self-disgust. He calls himself a bum and a loser, and he is that, and worse in fact. One of his part-time jobs is breaking legs for a loan shark. So he hates himself for the life he leads. In other words, Rocky lacks a sense of self-worth. He lacks self-love. He has a gaping need for self-respect. There is a hole in Rocky’s heart where self-esteem should be, but he fills it instead with self-hate. Now, he could spend his whole life in that state, but, by coinci-