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The protagonist's dramatic goals, wants and needs

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Screenwriting manuals tell us that narratives should have a protagonist and that a protagonist should have an important dramatic goal to achieve. With respect to this goal, manuals often mention another common distinction, that between a protagonist's want and need. Wants are generally understood as external and/or conscious dramatic goals, whereas needs are defined as internal and/or unconscious dramatic goals. This essay argues that these tools could be made more powerful if defined in a more precise way. Whereas wants refer to the goals of characters at the level of story, needs play at the level of the interaction between plot and real audience. This re-definition links the wants and needs debate with the much wider and far more complex study of audience involvement and its relationships with the value systems expressed in a narrative and those experienced by a viewer; a subject which stretches far beyond the limits of a single article.
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Keywords: character design; dramatic goal; empathy; need; protagonist; want

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Emerson College European Center; Antwerp University; Universit Libre Bruxelles.

Publication date: January 1, 2010

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  • The Journal of Screenwriting aims to explore the nature of writing for the moving image in the broadest sense, highlighting current academic thinking around scriptwriting whilst also reflecting on this with a truly international perspective and outlook. The journal will encourage the investigation of a broad range of possible methodologies and approaches to studying the scriptwriting form, in particular: the history of the form, contextual analysis, the process of writing for the moving image, the relationship of scriptwriting to the production process and how the form can be considered in terms of culture and society. The journal also aims to encourage research in the field of screenwriting, the linking of scriptwriting practice to academic theory, and to support and promote conferences and networking events on this subject.
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