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Three Questions

Banes at 12:00AM, Dec. 8, 2022

It's been said by…someone that a character WANTS something. It's one of the ingredients that makes a compelling character. It's also something that makes a character relatable, even one who's very different from the reader/audience.

Most of us aren't centuries-old robots, but we can relate to Wall-E and his desire for companionship, and maybe other elements of his character.

Anyway, that's not the point today - I wanted to highlight an interesting approach from a screenwriter who
outlined his approach to character and story, which is to create three questions in a story: a professional, a personal, and a private.

Ha…when I looked up the video, I realized he's talking about three central questions in a story. It's plot related, but it also helps put a main character together. It helps define a character AND a story.

So three questions that a story asks…

The Professional Question means a lot to a lot of people.
The Personal Question means a lot to a few people.
and The Private Question means a lot to one person.

He gives the example of Star Wars, where the Professional Question is “will Luke and the rebels destroy the Death Star/defeat the Empire?”
The Personal Question is “will Luke and friends save the Princess?”
and the Private Question is “will Luke become a Jedi like his father?”

I didn't think this applied to every story, or even to every big, commercial movie. Actually, multiple stories came to mind that didn't have a Professional Question at all - the stakes were smaller, and only mattered to a few people. But these can still be wonderful stories and characters.

But I like it as a tool that we could use to define a story and a Protagonist.

when I heard the writer say this, other examples popped into my head right away, including SCREAM:
Professional Question: will Sidney and her friends survive the killer?
Personal Question: will Sidney and her friends unmask the killer? Who is the killer?
Private Question: will Sidney come to terms with the pain surrounding her Mother's death?

Did this make sense? It struck me as a useful tool to define a story and a Protagonist.

Here's the video on the Film Courage YouTube page:

See you next time!


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PaulEberhardt at 4:32AM, Dec. 9, 2022

This is a really interesting approach, worth keeping in mind. Perhaps it's just coincidence, but it strikes me that these questions are always yes/no-questions, which suggests to me that this screenwriter is really telling us to keep in mind three major turning points in any story where a decision has to be made - ideally by the protagonist. Like, if you have a grand, epic professional question (Will Frodo & friends manage to defeat Sauron and free Middle Earth from evil?) you'll have to have a grand, epic decisive moment to resolve it (toyed with in this example, and why the heck didn't they ask the Eagles to bring them there as well?). I wonder about stories without a professional question, still trying to think of an example. Perhaps it's just a matter of scope or the story's mood, hiding the professional question somewhere in the framework of the world it is set in, where it doesn't have to be resolved just yet. No idea if that makes any sense.

Ozoneocean at 6:39PM, Dec. 8, 2022

Ha, really interesting. This could be a game almost where we apply it to every story! ^_^

Banes at 7:22AM, Dec. 8, 2022

@marcorossi - I think in general the Protagonist is probably the one with the more complex undertaking. In most books/movies there probably isn't time to give everyone multiple things to deal with. Of course, some stories have a different setup, where the world, or a theme is the "Protagonist" and we see different people dealing with various conflicts and problems, connected to that world or theme. I think Antagonists and other types can have their own arcs/journeys and unexpected sides to their character though. Or there could be subplots that have their own questions. Many shapes and sizes stories have.

marcorossi at 6:35AM, Dec. 8, 2022

I wonder if the same "question" (or perhaps "quest") logic applies to other characters, like the antagonist or the deuteragonist/sidekick/helper/love interest. In some complex stories like in movies it certainly does but in simplier stories like movies, does it or are these characters devoid of quests?

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