Of course, as I’ve said before, this doesn’t mean that they could just want nothing at the beginning of the story. They need to have something else that they wanted to do instead. Audiences hate heroes who are sitting around waiting for a story to happen to them. Choosing something over nothing isn’t an interesting choice. Being forced to help rob a bank doesn’t sound so bad if the alternative is of loafing on the couch. Being forced to help rob a bank instead of picking up your daughter from the airport, on the other hand, is a painful dilemma.
So every hero starts out wanting something, but the relationship between what your heroes want and the actual opportunities they discover can play out in many different ways:
- Some heroes, like Luke Skywalker, get exactly the opportunity that they’d always dreamed of: He’s always wanted to run off and join the rebel alliance, and then exactly that opportunity presents itself.
- But for other heroes, the opportunity that appears is the opposite of what they’ve always wanted. Sheriff Brody in Jaws wants to prove himself as sheriff, but the opportunity to do so arrives in the form of one of his deepest fears.
- For others, like Sarah Connor in The Terminator, it’s more of an ironic “be careful what you wish for” situation. She drops a bunch of dishes at work and then wonders “in a hundred years, who’s gonna care?” It’s just a rhetorical question, but she gets her answer in spades.
- Sometimes, the connection between their want and their opportunity is even more abstract than that. Marty McFly in Back to the Future wants to be cooler than his lame parents. Getting sent back in time is neither something he wants nor something he feared, but when he gets there he stumbles upon a strange opportunity to solve his problem: First he comes to understand his parents better, and then he accidentally improves their lives retroactively, solving his original problem in a very roundabout, yet satisfying way.