Question: What do you call a story if the Hero has a goal and no obstacles in her way at all?
Below are the 5 elements of conflict and motivation that I’ve distilled from the YA heroes in Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games. I was surprised by how similar the themes became in this format: all three stories include survival, protection of loved ones, and the need for friendship/love.
It’s clear to me that the Hero needs big and small goals with big and small obstacles. The YA Hero has her own crazy teenage life to deal with, and then on top of that she has to fight something evil who wants to kill her. (BTW: I will be using Hero generically here to apply to both male and female protagonists instead of switching to Heroine.)
Worse yet, if she fails, her family and friends are at risk, so she must give it all he’s got to stop the evil thing, including putting her own life on the line. But, it’s too dangerous or impossible to keep her family and friends in the loop, so they keep expecting her to deal with everyday life, and as a result they are disappointed or hurt by the Hero’s actions.
And woe is the Hero, all she wants is love and acceptance, but that’s exactly what she has to sacrifice while protecting her loved ones. Which sucks, because these loved ones happened to have brought just the the love/care/friendship into the Hero’s life that she was previously missing. So, if the YA Hero loses, she really will lose it all.
- Harry’s everyday goal is to: succeed in school and do well in quidditch.
- However, pursuing this small goal is overshadowed by having to survive: an encounter with Voldemort.
- He is willing to risk his life because he wants protect: his friends and the wizard community by keeping Voldemort from gaining power.
- He is conflicted when trying to reconcile the two goals because: he wants to be liked by the Griffin house but has to break rules and risk losing house points to take down Voldemort.
- Deep down, Harry really needs: friendship and love.
- Bella’s everyday goal is to: fit in at her new school in Forks, take care of her mom and dad, and date the boy she likes.
- However, pursuing this small goal is overshadowed by having to survive: a vampire attack.
- She is willing to risk her life because she wants to protect: her family from being hunted by the bad vampires.
- She is conflicted when trying to reconcile the two goals because: Edward doesn’t want her to risk her life and she would have to expose the good vampires to protect her family.
- Deep down, Bella really needs: someone to love her and put her needs first.
The Hunger Games
- Katniss’s everyday goal is to: keep her family alive through her hunting and gathering.
- However, pursuing this small goal is overshadowed by having to survive: the Hunger Games.
- She is willing to risk her life because she wants to protect: her sister and the tributes she befriends.
- However, she is conflicted because: she will have to kill other tributes to win.
- Deep down, Katniss really needs: to experience love and caretaking.
Here’s how I have “averaged” the 5 elements together for the Master Outline:
- Hero’s everyday goal is to: do well in school and fit in.
- However, pursuing this small goal is overshadowed by having to survive: an encounter with something supremely evil or a Villain.
- The Hero is willing to risk her life because she wants protect: her family/friends from the same Villain.
- The Hero is conflicted when trying to reconcile the two goals because: she will be temporarily rejected from her everyday family/friends if she pursues a battle with the Villain, but the Hero cannot explain it to them.
- Deep down, the Hero really needs: friendship, love, acceptance, & care.
I wanted to break down the Hero’s basic goals and obstacles now, even though I don’t have a clear idea of who the Hero even is or what kind of “magic” she will be up against.
But, at some point in novel writing I think you need to just dive in: it is hard to write a premise without a character sketch, but it is just as hard to try to write an appropriate backstory for a character without knowing what obstacles she must be prepared to tackle.
So, let’s choose some goals and evil beings now, and file them away as a “working idea” for the subconscious to chug away on. Don’t panic, nothing’s set in stone. Just throw something down and see what develops.
Choose an everyday goal for the Hero.
Choose an extremely evil thing or Villain who wants to kill the Hero.
Explain how the evil being or thing’s victory would harm the Hero’s family/friends in a way significant enough that the Hero is willing to risk her life to protect them.
Explain the a reason that the Hero cannot explain the situation to all of her family/friends, and explain how the family/friends feel rejected or betrayed when the Hero neglects her everyday responsibilities.
Through the character’s backstory, explain how the Hero’s life is missing elements of love, friendship, or care that motivates her to fight for the love in her life now.
P.S. I haven’t forgotten about the Villain, who can’t just run around on random killing sprees (believably, that is). We will work through the Villain’s motivations in a future post.