The other day, a student challenged me with this statement and question: “Conventional wisdom suggests that there must be a clear goal and an antagonist, but I don't buy it. I've seen many movies where there appears to be neither a concrete goal nor an antagonist. Take Good Will Hunting. The movie seems completely driven by Will's need to love himself before he can be close to others. And the opposition is his own character flaws. Where's the goal and opposition?”
That is a great question. In character-driven stories, the inner need is more important than the outside goal. There are many movies where the goal is rather minor but is still important to the story’s success. For example, in Stand by Me, the goal is to find the dead body, which is the track upon which the story rolls.
In the case of Good Will Hunting, the overall goal is to avoid action or change; that is, to maintain the status quo.
Notice that there are at least two opposition characters: Sean (Robin Williams) and, to a lesser degree, Skylar (Minnie Driver). Both oppose his goal/desire/intention to remain undiscovered and closed off from others and his own goodness (thus, maintaining the status quo). These two characters can be seen as friendly antagonists who help heal his wound.
In addition, Will has several small action goals, intentions, or desires throughout the movie. For example, he wants to put the arrogant college dude in his place and get Skylar’s phone number. That scene is driven by a goal that reveals something of his character.
Sean is opposed by a colleague. And then, in individual scenes, you have the arrogant college dude, the university professor, and Will's best friend Chuckie (Ben Affleck) acting as opposition characters. In other words, virtually everyone has an intention, desire, or goal of some sort, providing plenty of conflict.
But you’re right, at the core of the story is Will's need. Your need (and goal) is to write a great story and gain the good will of an agent or producer, so keep writing.
DAVE TROTTIER, author of seven books including The Screenwriter’s Bible, has sold or optioned ten screenplays (three produced) and helped hundreds of writers sell their work and break into the biz. He is an award-winning teacher, in-demand script consultant, and friendly host of www.keepwriting.com.