Friday, September 4, 2009

Chris Soth on WANT VS. NEED

(Chris Soth, USC MFA graduate, produced screenwriter, mentor, guru, and friend is today's guest blogger. I met Chris through is wonderful mentorship program after reading his eBook. Give this a read and visit his website for more information.)


That's what it's all about, as far as I'm concerned. They teach this at USC... I've run across people at the UCLA Extension who've learned it there, but I haven't run across it in any of the major screenwriting books or programs – except, perhaps the ones written by the faculty I learned from at USC – take a look at David Howard's excellent books, Tools of the
Screenwriter and Building a Great Screenplay. Mr. Howard is a fellow Minnesotan, and my faculty advisor while I was at USC – a disciple of the great Frank Daniel,
and a proponent of story sequencing-the parent of the The Mini-Movie Method.

So, "want versus need" – what am I talking about?

The essence of the
character arc. If you visualize an actual "arc" – an arcing, curved line drawn between point A and point B (I must admit, I DO…), then…

WANT…is point A…where a character, your main character, at least, starts…

NEED is point B – where you main character will end up.

Want is point A…

Need is point B…

And the "character arc" takes your character from the first to the second…

…and if you remember your geometry, you'll know that the line defining that arc is made up of an infinite variety points
along the way.


We should be called Human WANTS, or Human Wantings, rather than
human beings. Being is at rest, to want…is active. There is nothing more human. There is no more defining aspect of a character than what that character wants.

Just try writing a scene about a character who doesn't want anything in that scene. It's not easy. I don't want to say it's impossible, I try never to say that, but…it's tricky.

Make sure the "wantless guy" is the star of the scene – make it his/her scene…

…where's that scene gonna go?

Nowhere, right?

Because what drives the scene? Ideally, the character's want, right? Whether that's to reach out and touch someone's
heart in a love scene/love story, or to escape the gunfire of
Blofeld and his minions in an action scene…which our hero
evades because…

…he WANTS to stay alive.

The want is where character and story are inextricably bound –
what your main character wants is the engine that will drive
your story, and the more they want it, the more keenly they feel
this lack, the more monomaniacally they pursue it, the harder and
faster the story will go – so pick a great character, with a
great want and s/he will serve you well.


…this is something of which the character is unaware. They don't want this. It's probably the last thing they want. But it's what they SHOULD want.

They need to go through this arc. They may want money, but need
love. They may want love but need to become worthy of love, they may want to become worthy of love but need to love themselves

…the list goes on and on.

And even we, the audience, may be blissfully unaware of the main
character's need. But at some point – perhaps, ideally, at the same time they do, we'll become keenly aware of it -- .


A main character pursues his want from the start of the story, or the inciting incident/call to adventure, through the body of the story…

…they do greater and greater things to get what they want, take more and more extreme measures to achieve this goal, until, perhaps, they turn a corner, and we're no longer rooting for them – we realize that achieve this WANT, without servicing this NEED would be worse than never having what we wanted in the first place…the hero realizes it too…

…and their character arc is complete. Typically at the end of what is usually called Act Two. They spend Act Three serving their need…and, usually, are rewarded with what they wanted at the very end…because they have healed their need and become worthy of it.

For more on story and how it relates to character, and the best
way of breaking a story down to its component parts, come take a
look at our ebook, dvds and seminars at

You may not want it yet. But you might NEED it. (Couldn't resist!).

Thanks "A Million",

Chris Soth

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