Tuesday, April 17, 2007


The Protagonist's Desire

Zander Cannon talks on his blog a bit about a talk Scott McCloud gave recently at Dreamhaven Books, about his current obsession. Namely, the central mechanism of any storytelling machine: "Every story begins at the beginning of a character's desire, and ends at the resolution of that desire."

This isn't, as Cannon points out, a new or revolutionary notion, but it's one that any storyteller needs to be reminded of, from time to time. The way Todd Alcott puts it in his insightful analyses is "What does the protagonist want?" (Check out his evisceration of The Phantom Menace for a good example of what not to do.)

In many of the stories I attempted as an aspiring writer, I managed to work in a bit of protagonist desire, but it was only instinctual, aping the structures of more successful stories by people who actually knew what they were doing, unlike me. It's really only been the last few years that I've intellectualized these kinds of storytelling requirements, and I can see the diference in the resulting stories. It's easy to forget, though, when getting wrapped up in world building or plot mechanics or big sfnal ideas, to stop and consider, "What does the protagonist want?" Whenever possible, these days, I ask the question first, and proceed from there. But it never hurts to be reminded.

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