What’s a great story made of?
No. Not necessarily.
A great story is made of this: A main character who wants something so badly they’re willing to go through death – and worse! – to get it.
Indiana Jones wants the Ark of the Covenant so badly he’s willing to go through all sorts of life-threatening experiences. But it isn’t just his life that’s at stake. In the end, while the Ark is melting Nazi’s, we get the sense that, if Indy’s blasted with that power, something far worse than death will happen to him: Damnation – the fate of all Nazi’s. But Indy keeps his eyes closed and survives.
Sometimes, the experience of worse-than-death is so powerful, it changes the main character’s Want. In The Incredibles, Mr. Incredible wants to be a superhero again. He even risks his family’s safety and security to moonlight as one, but then he’s captured and his family is killed (he believes) by the villain. This is Mr. Incredible’s worse-than-death experience. And it changes his Want – refocusing him on what really matters: his family.
The death and worse-than-death experience doesn’t have to be literal. In A Beautiful Mind, John Nash wants to be a famous mathematician. His worse-than-death experience is the discovery that his own mind is working against him. In The Princess Diaries, Mia’s worse-than-death experience is her decision to turn her back on her family heritage, run away, and not become a princess.
But what about you?
What is it you’re going through death – and worse! – for? (Because you’re going through it for something…)
Money? You can break the sabbath or play the lottery or rob a bank, but there will be a heavy cost, and in the end, you’ll have only an empire of dirt.
Good feelings? Drugs, food, sex, all these and more can deliver good feelings, but they’ll drive you, a diseased wretch, into an early grave.
An easy life? Video games + Mountain Dew + your parent’s basement = an easy life. Until you wake up one day lonely, feeble, and bereft.
No, there is only one Want that can get you through death and worse without taking everything from you; only one Want that can transform death and worse-than-death into life and life everlasting. You must want the one who went through death and worse-than-death for you.
Easter is coming.
- Death – and Worse! - March 13, 2023
LM Helm challenges me to dig deeper into not only what drives characters, but my own motives. Interesting article.