Drama & Writing: What’s your superobjective?

This is part two in an occasional series on the connection between drama and writing. Today’s topic: superobjective.

When taking apart a scene, there are certain specific items that any actor has to ask him or herself. First, what is the scene objective? What do I have to accomplish in the scene? The motive? Next, what is the obstacle? What is keeping me from achieving my goal? Finally, what are the stakes? How important is it for you to accomplish your goal in this particular scene?  To what lengths will you be willing to go in order to reach maximum achievement?

As a writer, all of these particular items are important to keep in mind. Every character needs an objective. Certainly there needs to be obstacles which create dramatic conflict. It’s also crucially important to understand what’s at stake? For example, in my novel Beauty Rising, when Martin’s father asks him on his death bed to take his ashes to Vietnam, Martin agrees and the stakes are extremely high. He goes to Vietnam against the wishes of his overbearing mother. He is on a quest to find redemption, and that means that he will go to nearly any length to see his father’s quest through. The stakes are what drives Martin far beyond his comfort zone – a crucial part of the story.

However, if a writer, or actor stops there with only looking at scene objectives, obstacles, and stakes, the full story and full characterization will not be realized. What comes next is the superobjective.

The superobjective in drama (sometimes called the spine) is the overarching goal or desire of the character. It is the one thing that keeps the character moving forward. Without an understanding of a character’s superobjective, an actor or a writer may find themselves twiddling around with a bunch of episodes – episodes of action only – without any clear connection between them. It may work well with weekly episodic TV shows, but it doesn’t complete the narrative in a novel (or play).

Where this gets tricky, however, is when the character does thing in one scene which goes against the superobjective. For example, if a character wants the love of a girl more than anything else in the world, he might have to give her up in one scene in order to win her back in the end. That means that the subtleties to the writing have to be true to the scene objective, but it also has to be true to the superobjective. It’s a challenge for an actor to play the scene of giving up the girl while being true to the idea that he wants the girl more than anything. Did I lose you?

Bottom line, a character may do and say one thing, but the truth might be completely opposite. This is where layers of complexities are built up on a character making them real, human, and truly intriguing.

Keeping the idea of a superobjective in your head will help keep your character grounded, moving forward, and staying true to him or herself. Back to my novel, Martin, more than anything, wants acceptance, love and a true family. That’s why he does what he does and that is why, in my mind, the ending makes sense.

So don’t forget your superobjective. Every character has one!

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