The Princess Bride Character Goals

This is the last of a three part series on Motivation, Goals and Conflict, as told from the view of the characters from the book and movie, “The Princess Bride.”  I hope you’ve enjoyed a different twist on the three major components of character development and plot.

Conflict is the “why not” of your story

It is the dragon (external), the physical force preventing your character from reaching his goal.  It is the demon (internal), emotions your character must face, the force within, his Achilles heel.  (Thanks to Julie Garwood for the dragon/demon comparison.)

Conflict has to be internal and external in order for your character to grow.

Internal conflict brings the character’s biggest fears into the light.  His strongest defense, the thing he thinks is his greatest strength, may be his fatal flaw.

  • Inigo is the highest ranked swordsman in the world, but is downed by a Florinese blade.
  • Westley’s greatest strength is his love for Buttercup, but when he thinks of her to block the pain from the Machine, it isn’t enough.

Conflict must escalate throughout the story and make things progressively worse.

  • Westley must persuade the Dread Pirate Roberts not to kill him every day.
  • The Man in Black climbs the Cliffs of Insanity in pursuit of Buttercup.
  • The Man in Black fights Inigo and Fizzik and outsmarts Vizzini.
  • Westley is turned over to Count Rugen and is tortured.
  • Westley dies.

There are five points of major conflict in a story

  1. The inciting incident, the major hook that forces the characters into action.
  2. The first turning point, where a deeper motivation is revealed.
  3. The midpoint, or point of no return.
  4. The second turning point, where the character’s core motivation is revealed.
  5. The climax, the biggest conflict of all, the darkest moment.  a) Westley dies b) Inigo is stabbed and realizes he might not avenge his father’s death c) Buttercup realizes Westley is not coming to rescue her.

The Climax is the point when the protagonist and antagonist inevitably meet for their final confrontation, when only one emerges as the winner.

  • Westley and Prince Humperdinck have a battle of wits in Buttercup’s bedchamber.
  • Inigo and Count Rugen have a battle of blades in the billiard room.

The Resolution is the conclusion of all conflicts.  It’s the return to a new ordinary world and gives the reader his ultimate payoff.

  • Buttercup, Westley, Fezzik and Inigo ride toward the Florin Channel.  (Ignore the book’s false ending of Buttercup’s Baby.)

Conflict is necessary for your character.  Without it, your reader doesn’t become engaged, loses interest in the characters and wanders away, never to return.  And isn’t that a shame?

Make awful things happen to your characters.  Make them realize their biggest fears.  Then do it again and again until you don’t know how to get them out of trouble.  If you don’t know (you’ll figure it out in time) your reader won’t, and they’ll be there until the last page.

Last pages sell the next book.

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The Princess Bride Character Goals

On an earlier post, I talked about the importance of your characters having a strong motivation for what they do.  The fantastic book and movie, “The Princess Bride” provided a rich history of its characters’ motivation.

All characters need a goal, and “The Princess Bride” is no exception.  Let’s explore further:

The importance of character goals

The goal is the “what” of your character’s journey through the story.  It’s a need, an object or desired outcome.  Goals can be anything, no matter how unbelievable to the reader, as long as the reader buys into the concept that the character believes in it.  The reader must be convinced the protagonist and antagonist will lose everything if they don’t obtain it.

External goals are concrete and simple

  • Kill the six-fingered man
  • Rescue Buttercup from Vizzini, Fezzik and Inigo

Internal goals are needed for emotional satisfaction

  • Inigo is blindly loyal to Vizzini because the hunchback saved him from giving up.  If he could not avenge his father, he would stay loyal to Vizzini
  • Humperdinck is a noted hunter and kills without remorse, yet he elaborately plans the war with Guilder so he does not appear as a heartless invader but as a mourning husband seeking revenge

Goals can change.  The character might not be aware of what he needs at the beginning of the story.  As an author, it’s your job to peel back the different layers until his true goal is revealed.  Is Inigo’s goal to revenge his father’s death or to make up for not defending him?

Goals must be strong enough to motivate your character to withstand unrelenting conflict.  He can’t throw up his hands and walk away.  Whatever is driving him pushes him further and further into the abyss of hopelessness.  All soon may be lost, but he carries on.

Review the goals of your characters and strengthen them if they seem weak.  Be your own Inigo, seeking revenge even though you’ve been stabbed.  Pursue your goal to the very end until it’s resolved or you’ve met defeat.  There shouldn’t be a half-hearted attempt.

I’ll explore conflict in my next post.


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The Princess Bride Character Motivation

The Princess Bride has a little bit of everything.  Fencing.  Fighting.  Torture. Poison. True Love, etc.

It also has Motivation, Goals and Conflict (especially conflict.)

In my mind, Motivation is the most important of the three.  A man can have a goal of climbing Mt. Everest or landing a sailfish in the Caribbean, but until he has the motivation to get out of his Lazy Boy recliner and take climbing lessons or book a trip to the Bahamas, he’s still going to have those goals a year from now.

Motivation is the “why” of your story

It is your character’s reason to make the journey through the story.  It’s his drive, his constant, a real, pressing need that has to be strong enough to withstand the escalating conflict he’ll encounter.  Motivation can be anything, no matter how unbelievable(or inconceivable) to the reader, as long as the reader buys into the concept that the characater believes in it.

External motivation is something simple and concrete

  • Vizzini, Fezzik and Inigo will get the balance of their fee if they kill Buttercup at the Guilder frontier.
  • Humperdinck will invade Guilder after his wedding.
  • “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya; you killed my father, prepare to die.”

Internal motivation is something intangible

It reinforces the sense of self and is interwoven with the character’s identity.  The reader doesn’t have to know the internal motivation, but you, the writer, do.

  • Westley is motivated by his love for Buttercup.
  • I have taught myself languages because of you.  I have made my body strong because I thought you might be pleased by a strong body.
  • Buttercup loves Westley and agrees to surrender to Humperdinck outside the Fire Swamp if he agrees to not hurt Westley.
  • The narrator (grandfather in the movie, father in the book) continues to visit and read to his (grand)son even though the boy shows disinterest in the story.
  • Fezzik puts up with Vizzini’s abuse because he doesn’t want to be left alone.

Motivation can change

This is most evident in Buttercup.  After Westley leaves to seek his fortune, she takes an interest in herself for the first time and quickly becomes the most beautiful woman in a hundred years.

After it’s reported the Dread Pirate Roberts has killed him, her motivation is to choose life over death, even if it involves marriage to Prince Humperdinck.  When the Man in Black reveals himself as Westley, she wants to live again and waits impatiently for word from Humperdinck’s four fastest ship and ultimate rescue.  But at 5:46 on her wedding day, she’s looking for a weapon to use to kill herself.

Motivation can not change

Inigo’s thirst for revenge never wavers.  Westley’s love remains constant.

Whatever you’re character’s motivation, it’s the touchstone he’ll go to at the moment of crisis.  His values will change very little during his journey.

I will discuss goals and conflict in my next two posts.



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