Find your character’s ‘I wish’ song
“Funny Girl” starts with Barbara Streisand wishing to be a star.
“My Fair Lady” opens with Julie Andrews wishing for a room somewhere. “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” begins with Quasimodo wishing he could belong “Out There.” “Into the Woods” begins with six characters declaring their wishes.
Call it the “I wish” song.
“Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.”
— Kurt Vonnegut, novelist
Every Disney musical — not to mention many other film and stage musicals — starts with an “I wish” song, reports Ira Glass in a recent episode of “This American Life.” It’s the first song the main character sings.
That motivation launches the story’s action. Overcoming the obstacles that get in the way of your character’s wish drives the action of a good story.
Whether you’re writing social media or content marketing or anything in between, great stories start with your protagonist’s wish.
I wish, I wish, I wish.
So what does your protagonist want?
- I wish I were human. In “The Little Mermaid,” Ariel sings, “When’s it my turn? Wouldn’t I love? Love to explore that shore up above, Out of the sea, wish I could be, Part of that world.”
- I wish I had the perfect husband. In “Fiddler on the Roof,” the daughters sing, “Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Make me a match, Find me a find, catch me a catch. Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Look through your book, And make me a perfect match.”
- I wish I were somewhere more exciting than Kansas. In “The Wizard of Oz,” Dorothy sings, “Somewhere over the rainbow, bluebirds fly, Birds fly over the rainbow, Why then oh why can’t I?”
I wish, I wish, I wish.
The main character’s motivation drives every story:
- In The Great Gatsby, Jay Gatsby wants Daisy to love him. This dream motivates him to overcome the obstacle of poverty to become fabulously wealthy by distributing illegal alcohol, trading in stolen securities and otherwise participating in organized crime.
- In “The Wizard of Oz,” Dorothy wants to get home — and to help her friends get a brain, a heart and some courage. This objective moves her to overcome the obstacles of talking trees, flying monkeys and wicked witches to visit the wizard and do away with the witch.
- In The Princess Bride, Westley wants to save Buttercup. Humperdinck wants to kill Westley. Vizzini wants money for kidnapping Buttercup. Inigo wants to kill the six-fingered man.
What do your characters wish?
The best corporate stories start with a wish, too:
- Nike’s story begins with founder Bill Bowerman wishing he could create a shoe sole that would give runners more traction.
- Hallmark Cards started with entrepreneur J.C. Hall wishing to get out of Nebraska and become a postcard salesman.
- Post-it Notes began with 3M scientist Art Fry wishing for a bookmark that would stay put in his church hymnal.
Hear Ira Glass sing his “I wish” song.