The Dual Core of Every Story
When I first started writing I asked myself what theme should I write about. As I was searching for my theme I had the strange thought, do I even need one.
Strange thought but here's why. The television show Seinfeld is ranked among the best sitcoms ever made and in 2002 it was named the greatest tv show of all time by TV Guide. Yet this sitcom is often referred to as 'a show about nothing'. So if it worked for Seinfeld they why not me.
Well the truth is while Seinfeld is not a show with deep life changing theme, it is also not a show about nothing. Every episode and character in ever scene has a clear objective that drives the story. It doesn't matter if that objective is saving the world or simply getting a bowl of soup from the soup nazi. All that matters is that each character has a clear objective and the approach they take to getting that objective is consistent with the character's personality.
There it is the two things that made Seinfeld work, the clear objective present in every scene and the characters. If you look at the show you'll see that these two aspects are always present and they are always consistent.
It's often said that characters either make or break a story which makes sense seeing as the story is about the characters after all. Characters are important because they are the instrument that allows the reader to experience the story. As a reader you feel what the character's feel, you laugh at what they do, get excited when they succeed, and feel tense when you know they are in trouble.
The key to evoking the emotions you want in your reader is that the characters are relatable. That does not necessarily mean they are likable or even realistic. My favorite characters are often too firmly rooted in a stereotype to be realistic but they have relatable qualities. For example Superman is in no way realistic but his aversion to politics and desire to maintain the moral compass of his dead father are traits and motivation that many people understand. That is what makes him relatable, its how we know that he will try to save lives regardless of their political consequences. It is also what makes an impact when Superman is forced to kill someone. Killing is something that goes against his core desire, even if the one he has to kill is an evil person.
These core motivations for your characters should not be mistaken as the same as their objective. If you think of the story like a race the character's core motivation dictates how they will walk or run the race where as their objective is the finish line or at least a checkpoint on the race track.
The objective of your character is complex and difficult to pin down because it can be anything, and it can change or evolve over the course of the story. In the example of Seinfeld the objectives are what truly define the show because they are mundane everyday things that everyone encounters in the day to day life. This might seem boring or stupid but in a comedy it is brilliant.
Understanding the objectives of your characters will help to add structure to your story. Objectives will tell you when to start a scene, when to end the scene and allow you to add complexity or competing storylines. No matter what the objective actually is it is paramount that you understand exactly what it is at all times. It can be as simple as answering the door, or as grandiose as saving the universe. All that truly matters is that there is an objective, because without that there is no story.
Remember this in your next story and make something special. If you enjoyed reading or found this helpful check out the rest of my blog here or my full length novel here.