Every storyteller or writer will tell you a story needs a hero with a strong Want.
A Want can be simple:
A boy wants a pack of baseball cards.
Why? Because it might have a
Wander Franco card worth $2,247!
Yes, “Wants” can lift us from our seats to strive towards a goal. But not necessarily with velocity.
The problem with a Character’s Want is that it can be quickly abandoned. Sometimes, it's because it's nothing more than a low-level desire like wanting some candy. Other times, it’s a non-urgent distant dream such as getting rich someday.
But when someone’s life is on the line, especially one that the hero loves, the stakes become real.
The hero’s ears perk up and they muster their power and determination to defeat the villains.
With the hero’s world at risk, suddenly the hero graduates from “I-WANT-to-do” to “I-MUST-do!”
Returning to the Boy and his cards:
The boy wants a pack of baseball cards because
it might have a Wander Franco card worth $2,247!
If he could only find this card, he could help
save his baby sister from a deadly disease.
This transforms a casual WANT into a burning OBSESSION.
And whereas a WANT has many paths, achieving a MUST often only has a single way: head on and straight through to complete the goal.
Sure, there will be obstacles. But obstacles test our resolve. Plus, it’s exciting to watch an increasingly-obsessed hero determined to reach their goal and gain new powers along the journey. In this way, the Obstacles are the way.
A "Want-Transition-To-Must" or Possible Loss/Death Story
Let’s create a hero named Michiko. Now, let’s establish the WANT:
WANT Prompt: What does your Hero WANT?
Michiko Wants to be on the boys' wrestling team.
In order to build on this WANT, provide a hint of her “Why” or Backstory. Knowing a bit of her WHY “Makes us Care” and sympathize with her plight.
Her family does judo and Brazilian jujitsu. When the call for participants is announced, she decides to show up.
But let’s add a layer of Loss or Death. Why? Because it pierces our emotional core.
MUST/Loss or Death Prompt:
But the wrestling coach says she can’t join.
Everyone at school hears about it and thinks it was silly for her to try.
(Her potential "Death" is her Loss of Friends & Loss of Respect.)
Suddenly, that simple Want of being on the wrestling team has been magnified from a selfish Want to an unselfish NEED for Transformation.
Now, She MUST prove that women can wrestle too. Her plan is to defeat everyone on the team at her weight class and two weights above. Do you think she can do it?
The “WANT > MUST” Transformation Example
Example: Star Wars IV: A New Hope
More than anything in the world, Luke WANTS to become a pilot.
WHY? Because his friends are pilots and they are joining to fight the Empire.
Soon, Luke’s Uncle and Aunt are killed by Imperial Stormtroopers. When Luke finds out he says something like:
“There’s nothing for me here now. I want to know the ways of the Force and become a Jedi.”
To become a Jedi and avenge his uncle and aunt’s death. Now, he is determined and committed.
WHY? To stop the Empire from destroying everything and everyone that is decent and good.
Now, Try the “Want > Must” Exercise for Yourself:
1. Want Prompt: More than anything in the world my hero WANTS…..
My Hero (Selfishly) Wants: More than anything in the world...
Why? Because (Selfishly) my hero wants
How might this Want become an OBSESSION (i.e., I must get that treasure before the villain reaches it!) or more DANGEROUS (i.e., I must save a village!)
Add a DANGER or THREAT that changes everything:
How or Why does the Hero become OBSESSED?
What is the GOAL that needs to be achieved?
What are the CONSEQUENCES if they cannot reach the goal?
When you write your story, you may find that you naturally transition from a WANT to a stronger MUST. Perfect. But if your story is lingering or stuck, it may be because your hero needs to find their MUST beyond the WANT.
In your Story, your hero may need to fulfill at least two major goals (A "Selfish" Personal Victory) in the middle and in the end a finale that is a Victory for the Everyone (An Unselfish Victory for the World).
Throughout, they will also encounter mini goals and clues that call them to a new path, all the way towards the end.
The more you can move from Personal WANT to a desperate action or an OBSESSED “MUST” to achieve the final goal, the more danger and forward drive your story will have.
When you “Make us Worry,” AND "Make us Care," you’re stoking the fires in our bellies, perking our ears, and keeping us reading until we MUST finish your story — even if it means staying up all night to find out.
Have fun transitioning your story from WANT > MUST!
We can't wait to read your thrilling story soon!