Once a character in crisis is established in your story the thing that really gets it to take shape is quest. If you’ve ever complained that a movie took a long time to “get started,” you are referring to the quest. The quest is like a compass for your script and without it the story is tedious and while interesting things may happen on the page it will not hold a reader’s attention for long. Once you’ve established the first two C’s it is important to get to work on the Cuest.
We’ll talk about how these pieces fit together in the layout of the script in another post, but the important thing for now is to discover what your character is after. It can be hard to figure out, because in some ways it really doesn’t matter. Hitchcock called i a MacGuffin. Every film has to have one, but it can be anything at all and (as is the case with MacGuffins) it doesn’t even need to be defined. Unlike the crisis which should be closely tied to your character, the quest is external and usually the character has no interest in the quest at first. On the other hand, there needs to be some reason why it must be your character who needs to go on this quest.
Happy Gilmore had the raw talent to get him a chance to play professional golf, even though his dream was to ve a hockey player. He takes the quest of winning the golf tournament because it’s his only shot at winning enough money to save his grandmother’s house from the bank. In Billy Madison Billy must prove he can handle the responsibility of his father’s company so it doesn’t go to a total dickhead. He has to do this by repeating K-12th grades. Reservoir dogs is more difficult to dissect, but it’s deconstruction of screenwriting structure still bares all of the important elements. Mr. Orange, who is actually a cop, is tasked with busting Joe, the man who organizes the crew to steal the diamonds. To do this, he goes undercover and is hired by Joe as one of his men.
In Pulp Fiction, small stories are told with some connective tissue that holds it together as a feature. Each complete story has its own mini-quest, which illustrates one of my two main points: The length of the movie should determine the size of the quest. The quest in an episode of Angel is a lot different from the quest for the season. Try to scale your quest in accordance with the story you want to tell. You can tell a big story in a short time, but if your quest is too small the story will run thin. Always go large on quest, for the sake of making it more interesting. Worry about the details later.
The other main point shows in my other examples. Quest is a two parter. You must determine what the character has to do and how they plan to do it. In Jaws, Sheriff Brody’s quest is to rescue his beach community from a killer shark. He does it by joining a shark hunter and a marine Biologist in a mission to lure it from the island and kill it.
At this point, you should know your genre and who your protagonist is and what crisis is holding them back. You probably have a good idea of where you want the story to go, so try to think of what your character is going to be after for about a hundred pages. What do they need to accomplish before the story can be over and how are they going to set about doing it. He will surely have numerous things to do in the course of the story, but there needs to be one thing that it’s all about, be it finding the wizard, destroying the Death Star, or saving an important man from the clutches of an evil regime. That end goal, coupled with your characters weakness will make for an exciting display. The how he’ll do it part is just the means of illustrating and carrying out that drama.