Articles & Advice

Good Will To All

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.
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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.
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On June 06, 2019 Joshua Tousignant said:

Hey Dave!

I really enjoyed your interpretation.

So, our main character has no goal. There’s no villain or their is but they are friendly? A third person has the goal but pawns it off to someone else. And to make things tougher, the goal itself is vague. The inner one is more important so let's forget about the outer? What would it be: They’re helping Will with his Math so he can… help the world? That's tough.

I really do honor this interpretation; but it makes things more complicated then they have to be; turning a simple story into something a bit more... complicated.

I believe this is a common misconception when it comes down to labelling characters as protagonist/antagonist.

What are these terms? How do we use them? So let's define them, shall we?

A protagonist is someone who pursues a goal. I think we can agree on that.

A protagonist is also someone motivated to get others to consider this goal.

So an antagonist must be someone who AVOIDS the goal and is motivated to get others to RECONSIDER this goal.

Now which of those sounds like Will?

I'd say Will sounds more like an antagonist. In the traditional sense people equivalent the role of antagonist with a mustache twirling villain, and a protagonist as a hero on a horse. When neither of these help us as writers to distinguish the different point of views that are solving a single story problem.

If we take WILL as the ANTAGONIST then everything falls into place.

It's the same with HICCUP in HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON. Hiccup is the antagonist of that entire first film; going against and avoiding and eventually having everyone else reconsider the story goal; which is his fathers, being the PROTAGONIST, whom is trying to train the next generation of dragon hunters.

And it's the same with CAPTAIN AMERICA in CIVIL WAR (I'm blowing your mind, aren't I?).

"In the case of Good Will Hunting, the overall goal is to avoid action or change; that is, to maintain the status quo."

Yes, that is Will's motivation as an antagonist. He is trying to have everyone reconsider him, and avoiding the goal which is seen as progress in Will's development, or effecting some change in the situation surrounding Will.

This Goal is pursued by Lambeau, helped by Sean, and prevented, or avoided by Will.

"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."

Totally agree, but this would be in affect towards Will as a MAIN CHARACTER. There is difference. Bear with me. The MC is the character whom we take their point of view into the story. It just so happens the MC is an interchangeable perspective that can either be with the protagonist (like most stories) or the antagonist (like the rare and often misunderstood). The MC is the one we see from, the one whom has the core wound/ghost/etc. And yes, his wound is healed by the end and that's from being the MC of the story, not the protagonist.

It is very accurate to say that Will is the antagonist as he continually tries to get others to reconsider him, and the main character as the one we come into the story with and see from his pov. If this is not the case then that is one passive protagonist, wouldn't you say? He's not pursing anything. You can't pursue to avoid... Lambeau on the other hand is pursing this goal of progress with Will, and possibly for the visible, tangible goal: getting Will a job (as the indicating factor that Will is now using his abilities to his fullest potential) which can only happen if he heals his wound. The protagonist's goal is handed off the Sean, whom is more of a conscience/mentor archetype to Will as a MC, and often fights with Lambeau on his approach being that he also takes the guise of another archetype to the protagonist as contagonist: someone whom is after the same goal, but has some opposition in the approach. But that's another long paragraph.

Again, I think when the roles of antagonist and protagonist are really understood, we can find stories like GWH as much more simpler than they appear to be. 

 

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