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What does your character want?

How William Packard defines an act.

David Gane
David Gane
1 min read

Early on, when I struggled to write, I spent a lot of time trying to understand what a story is.

Often, this led me to the unhelpful answer that a story was three acts—beginning, middle, and end.

But then I needed to understand what an act was.

For the longest time, I was unsatisfied with the given answers. (It wouldn’t be until Jerry Cleaver that I found my best explanation.)

But early on, I had an inkling after reading William Packard’s The Art of the Playwright, because it introduced me to action.

Not “stage business,” or “activity,” but “a want, a need, a desire, a going for something.”

Actions begin when someone asks: what do I want? What is my objective? What do I have to have, in this beat or scene or play? And the answer always follows: I want this, or want that, or I want some other thing.

A character always wants something, and every part of the story—beat, scene, sequence, act, story, season, or series—is built around pursuing it.

The first step in finding your story is figuring out what your character wants.

David Gane Twitter

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