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Old 06-07-2019, 09:51 AM   #1
Syringe
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Default Want/Need and Character Arc

Hi ladies and gents, I'm just curious about something.

When screenwriters talk about a character's want/need is that also the same thing as the character's arc? Or are they two separate things?

If you could use examples to explain this to me I'd be super grateful. Thank you.
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Old 06-07-2019, 06:17 PM   #2
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Default Re: Want/Need and Character Arc

That is not what is MEANT by arc. However, the intertwining of a character's want (their goal/objective) throughout the story with their (at first subconscious) need is how a character's arc develops.

I watched Private Ryan in the theater two nights ago so it is at the top of mind right now. What is Captain Miller's conscious external goal? Well, it's to find James Ryan. (But deep down it's REALLY to get home to his wife) His NEED is to regain some of the fundamental humanity that the war has stolen from him, to shed the coping mechanisms he has developed. The hiding of his shaking hand. The detachment. The clinical recitation of the minefield mission to Dennis Farnia. Of course he is unaware of this at first.

It works so well because the dirty secret of Captain Miller is that he is a fundamentally DECENT person. So his change, his arc, is in realizing that he must regain that humanity. To show (and tell) his men who he truly is. Ryan's humanity, his face, not the abstract concept of mission helps to bring this about. The pain and loss in his men brings this out. It becomes WORTH it. As Sizemore puts it, "maybe someday we'll look back and realize that saving Private Ryan was the one decent thing we were able to pull out of this whole godawful, shitty mess."

The tragedy of his arc is that in finding his humanity again, the peace that he sought is only achieved through death. So you can see how this two things become intertwined. Only when he understands what his objective REALLY is and dedicating himself to SAVING PRIVATE RYAN for the right reasons (to get him home to his mother) can begin to regain his humanity and that peace.

These things often work well when they are in direct conflict with each other.
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Old 06-09-2019, 10:43 AM   #3
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Default Re: Want/Need and Character Arc

Thank you for replying, much appreciated.
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Old 06-09-2019, 11:39 AM   #4
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Default Re: Want/Need and Character Arc

I guess what I'm asking is does the character's arc refer to the hero wanting something at the start of the story to realizing his true need later on. Or is character arc something else entirely.

Sorry to keep asking questions, I just want to make sure I understand correctly.
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Old 06-09-2019, 12:43 PM   #5
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Default Re: Want/Need and Character Arc

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Originally Posted by Syringe View Post
I guess what I'm asking is does the character's arc refer to the hero wanting something at the start of the story to realizing his true need later on. Or is character arc something else entirely.

Sorry to keep asking questions, I just want to make sure I understand correctly.
Arguably, the basis of character arc is a change/reversal of a belief; the underpinnings of theme is belief.

The character may go on a quest, which itself is a kind of arc.

Then there is the symbolism of arc; how we tell there is change (outward appearance, physical change, attachments etc).

I’m not sure that framing it just around want/need will get you there.
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Old 06-09-2019, 01:01 PM   #6
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Default Re: Want/Need and Character Arc

Thank you for your answer
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Old 06-10-2019, 07:49 AM   #7
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Default Re: Want/Need and Character Arc

character arc has to do with the change in the hero from the starting point and the ending point. the best character arcs are the ones in which the character begins at the polar opposite of where they end up.

examples:
Character Arc:
  • Rain Man: selfish Charlie Babbitt's father dies and leaves a fortune behind that Charlie wants in order to save his exotic car business where US Customs have impounded several of his vehicles. by the end of the movie he gives up all claims to the money having realized that his relationship with his brother is far more important.
  • Schindler's List: Oskar Schindler is an opportunist, and a self-interested business man who uses his favor with German military officials to hire imprisoned Jews to run his business. he is all about acquiring fame and fortune. by the end of the film he cannot give up enough of his wealth to save as more Jews as possible. the final moments in the scene show Schindler breaking down with regret at not have sold literally everything he owns to save additional lives.
  • Rocky: an unknown, nobody fighter in the beginning rises out of self-doubt and low self esteem to rise up and challenge the Heavy Weight Champion of the world. by the end of the film he is no longer a nobody and has the desire, drive, and dedication to be an equal to the Champion. he goes from nobody to somebody.
  • Titanic: Rose is a societal woman locked in dependency of marrying the "right man" that will be able to take care of her and her mother's station in high society. by the the end of the film she will become an independent woman who lives life to the fullest by her own means and not those offered by marrying a wealthy magnate.
  • Avatar: Jake Sully is a self-serving military man that goes undercover to spy on and help oppress the native indigenous people of Pandora to subvert their claim on their homeland which sits upon a massive deposit of a rare mineral. by the end of the movie he becomes a freedom fighter for the very people he was helping to enslave and exploit.

the character arc is based on the character flaw and the ability of the hero to change or not change. remember, characters can "devolve" as much as "evolve."

Want:
the want is based on the character's goal. what they "think" they want.
  • Rose wants to secure her future for herself and her mother. in order to do that she must marry an arrogant magnate that she doesn't love or respect.
  • Charlie wants to get the money he feels he deserves to get his cars released from customs. in order to do that he must kidnap and exploit his own brother.
  • Schindler wants to amass personal wealth and prestige. in order to do that he uses Jews to make money off the military.
  • Jake wants to get his legs back and return to the glory days of being a soldier. in order to do that he must go undercover and provide details against the Navi people.
  • Rocky wants to challenge the champion in order to become a prized fighter. in order to do that he will accept a challenge against the Champion when he is not ready or capable.

Need: directly tied to character arc

need is usually, but not always, unknown to the hero. they are behaving in some immoral way that is hurting other people. it can also be that he's hurting himself, but typically it must be that he's hurting other people in some way. this creates a moral vacancy in the character that they need to address in order live a better more fulfilling life. this is about completing a character's essence.
  • Rose is going to marry a man she doesn't love to secure her financial future. what she needs is to let go of her dependency and become and independent woman.
  • Jake is going to betray the very people who have come to trust him with their very lives. what he needs is to help the Navi people rise against oppression.
  • Charlie is trying to swindle his brother out of his inheritance because he's bitter against his father. what he needs is to become the caretaker of the brother he loves.
  • Schindler is making money off the imprisonment and oppression of Jews. what he needs is to save Jews from persecution.
  • Rocky's self-loathing is his moral harm against himself. what he needs is to believe in himself.

hope this helps.
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Last edited by finalact4 : 06-10-2019 at 08:21 AM.
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Old 06-10-2019, 12:33 PM   #8
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Default Re: Want/Need and Character Arc

Quote:
Rose wants to secure her future for herself and her mother. in order to do that she must marry an arrogant magnate that she doesn't love or respect.


Need: directly tied to character arc

Rose is going to marry a man she doesn't love to secure her financial future. what she needs is to let go of her dependency and become and independent woman.
Maybe I'm too nit-picky, but I feel like Rose NEVER really wants to marry Cal. The first narration she gives she says that she saw the Titanic as a prison or something like that. The whole time, even before she meets Jack she's miserable and wanting out.

I'd say her want is freedom and her need is to feel free enough (or to have the opportunity) to escape society's plans and norms. The sinking of the ship gave her that opportunity and it was Jack who helped her realize she could let go.
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Old 06-10-2019, 02:09 PM   #9
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Default Re: Want/Need and Character Arc

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Maybe I'm too nit-picky, but I feel like Rose NEVER really wants to marry Cal. The first narration she gives she says that she saw the Titanic as a prison or something like that. The whole time, even before she meets Jack she's miserable and wanting out.

I'd say her want is freedom and her need is to feel free enough (or to have the opportunity) to escape society's plans and norms. The sinking of the ship gave her that opportunity and it was Jack who helped her realize she could let go.
she never “wanted” to marry him, but she is willing to do so all the way until the point when she is painted in the nude. That is her first attempt at living her truth. before that moment what she thinks she “wants” is the security marrying Cal will provide for her and her mother.

but she retreats back into that safe identity when she believes Cal is right that Jack stole the diamond. she even gets into the lifeboat as one of the “wealthy” one last time retreating into her old identity. then she commits fully to her character arc when she leaps from the lifeboat back into the ship and proclaims, “i’d rather be his whore than your wife” and she takes off the engagement ring.

that is when her character arc is sealed and the in the final moments when she rises up from the verge of death to honor Jack’s memory and commits to living the life if adventure she spoke about. then it is complete. sorry for the typos— traveling and using iPhone with one contact in.
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Old 06-10-2019, 03:02 PM   #10
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Default Re: Want/Need and Character Arc

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Originally Posted by Syringe View Post
Hi ladies and gents, I'm just curious about something.

When screenwriters talk about a character's want/need is that also the same thing as the character's arc? Or are they two separate things?

If you could use examples to explain this to me I'd be super grateful. Thank you.
Begging to differ on an earlier reply, in that the NEED *is* the arc. When they get what they need at the end, they’ve arc’d. Be it learning a lesson, changing somehow, etc. Often in relation to THEME, for example. Mazin uses protagonists butting their head up against theme - what they need (theme’s lesson) Vs what they want (be it maintaining their 1st act status quo, or wanting some other superficial anti-theme goal/thing). It’s their *not changing or learning* from the theme that creates your conflict throughout most of the film. And when they DO change/learn (achieve their NEED, which is usually theme-related), that’s the arc. A better question would be “do *I* need an arc.” Answer: NO. Not all films have character arcs.
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