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A character’s objectives and spine

Discovering your character's spine.

David Gane
David Gane
1 min read

When thinking about story, plot, and character’s wants and obstacles, it’s helpful to think like an actor.

Actors search for their character’s want throughout the story, as well as within individual scenes and moments within those scenes (beats).

Often what they want is something from the other characters in the scene. Maybe they want them to do something or tell them something.

This creates conflict because those other characters also have their own wants in the scene—which may go against the main character.

And all of this is guided by what the character wants in the overall story—the thing that propels the story forward.

To think about these different layers of want more clearly, let’s look at how Judith Weston breaks it down in her book Directing Actors:

The objective is what the character wants the other character to do, and the action verb is what he is doing to get what he wants... The character’s spine, or super-objective, is what he wants during the whole script; you could call it what he wants out of life. It is the one specific thing that a character needs more than any other, will sacrifice the most to have. Sometimes people call it the character’s life-need; you may also hear this called his core, his through-line, his want, the red thread, the thing that drives him, what he is fighting for, what is important to him.

If you want to tell a story that feels alive, figure out the one thing your character wants and drives them forward through life. It’s the thing that will define your story and plot. Unlock that, and everything else will pour out from there.

David Gane Twitter

Co-writer of the Shepherd and Wolfe young adult mysteries, the internationally award-winning series, and teacher of storytelling and screenwriting.