Okay. Currently reading The Comic Toolbox by John Vorhaus and I’ve had a bit of a lightbulb moment.
We already know, if we are sad writers seeking a blueprint, a template or even a toolbox, that stories are about characters, those characters want something (goals) and those goals are frustrated (conflict). We understand also that the conflict should escalate, that the stakes should get higher (for the character), things should look very bleak just before the end and ultimately success depends upon a final decision by the character.
We have also come across the idea that the character has got two actual goals…what he (or she) WANTS and what (s)he NEEDS.
Thrown in there somewhere also are the ideas that the story has a theme, and is really about that theme rather than the stated story goal. So that a rags to riches story has to show that the hero/heroine deserves his/her rewards by the end. That’s where the moral viewpoint of the writer (and reader?) comes into play.
So here’s the lightbulb moment.
The conflict of the story is ultimately the conflict between the character’s WANT and the character’s NEED. Not just the conflict, but the theme too.
Mr Vorhaus points out that the default setting for the need is “Love”. And that’s what got me thinking.
In the Seven Basic Plots, Booker makes a strong case for stories all following that template where the main character has to negotiate the worldly traps that might turn him/her into a monster/miser/dragon whatever. And the secret ingredient is the Ego and The Self (Jungian version). In layman’s terms, selfishness (Ego) will win you earthly rewards but leave you lonely and bitter in old age. Selflessness might bring you less immediate reward but might save your soul. All a bit religious and fairy tale but convincing nonetheless.