I know, you’re thinking, “Well, of course. I always seek Mick Jagger’s advice when creating characters.”
But Mick has a point: Instead of building a conventional dramatic arc by having your main character ultimately get what he or she wants (after overcoming the bad guys), have your hero try but fail to get what s/he wants, ultimately getting what s/he needs instead.
- Schindler’s List – Oskar Schindler wants to make money exploiting Jews. Instead, he grows a soul and spends every penny he has rescuing them from the Nazis.
- Home Alone – Immature Kevin wants to avoid responsibility–and things that scare him. Instead, he ends up taking on the responsibility of protecting his home, and faces his worst fears, becoming more mature in the process.
- Jurassic Park – Dr. Alan Grant wants to marry his paleontological sweetheart and pursue pure science without the messiness of children. Instead, he ends up putting his life on the line to protect two children, and opens up his heart up in the process.
- Huckleberry Finn – Huck wants to be free from “sivilizashun,” but instead ends up reentering civilization in order to help free runaway slave Jim (although at the end of the story Huck vows to escape again).
Virtually every tragedy, from Oedipus Rex, to Hamlet, to Catcher in the Rye follows this principal. Although the hero often dies in the end, they–or we–learn something necessary as a result!