“To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction.”
– Isaac Newton
While exploring the nature of the “want” in your story, it’s important to understand that you are an artist and you cannot make a mistake in this creative process. Everything you write either belongs, or is leading you to what ultimately belongs in your story.
If you feel like your outline lacks momentum, or that you are not showing movement through conflict and action, inquire into the nature of what your protagonist wants. You will likely discover that the true nature of the want is different than your idea of the want.
Notice that your protagonist is in conflict with other characters. Through this conflict (or tension), they encounter increasing obstacles. Just when it looks like they will get what they want, there is another problem around the corner.
Life’s like that. We’re always trying to get what we want. Find order in chaos. Make meaning. Defeat the dragon. Be seen. See the light. And yet, we discover once again that lasting freedom comes from within.
It is only when your protagonist accepts the reality of their situation, that it becomes workable.
Notice how we tend to have a conscious goal attached to an unconscious desire.
For example: in Paul Thomas Anderson’s screenplay Boogie Nights, Eddie Adams wants to be special. If he doesn’t break away from his stifling, suburban existence, his life will be unimaginable. And so, he sets out on his journey by becoming a porn star — by selling himself — in the hopes of satisfying his unconscious desire to belong.
Notice his dilemma.
When they see me, then I will belong.
His dilemma can only be resolved by accepting that true belonging can only come from within, from accepting his pain and loneliness rather than seeking validation through outside vices.
In creating a compelling outline, give your protagonist a powerful want. Notice the false belief that they make out of this want. Force them to address their situation right now. Make it urgent. It is only through an active protagonist you can convey meaning.