How Does Disney's 'Soul' Create a Character with Both Wants and Needs?

Credit: Disney
The Soul characters have an out-of-body experience, but that doesn't mean they don't lack depth! 

I have a theory that Pixar has just stopped making movies for kids and instead, their narratives have grown with their initial audience and now are helping us deal with life crises because Soul hit me really hard in the feels and shook up my general thoughts about the world. 

I mean look, I take a lot of gigs, I don't have the best health insurance or a 401K, but I'm working on a dream! 

Sorry, that might have been an overshare. 

For those uninitiated, this movie is about a musician who is sent to the afterlife and tries to head back to his body, with lots of mishaps along the way. It's also one of the best illustrations of "character want" versus "character need" that I can remember. 

So today, I wanted to look at both of those topics and then talk about how they can apply to your own writing. 

Check out this video from Lessons from the Screenplay, and let's talk after the jump! 

How Does Disney's Soul Create a Character with Both Wants and Needs?

Screenwriting is like jazz in that it's beautiful. But it's also not like jazz... because you have to plan all of it out and make choices based on your characters' needs and wants. See, when you are developing a story, you have to first think about who's going to be inside it. 

In Soul, we meet our lead, a jazz player named Joe. He wants to "make it" in the business, playing big shows and being appreciated for his musical talent. But what he needs to do is a slowdown to enjoy life.   

These wants and needs become the driving force of his journey. In an out-of-body experience, he sees his life through a cat's eyes and has a profound experience about what he's been missing solely focusing on jazz. He's missed friends, romances, and the simple joys, like heat from a grate. 

This is great writing. We clearly know what the character wants and how that plays off their needs. It creates a tangible arc. We can tell when our character completes his journey.

In your writing, what are your characters' needs? What do they need to complete their arc? 

Now think about what they want. Is it superficial? Does it weigh on them? What are they actively doing and searching for, to achieve those goals? The actions will help provide the plot and sometimes even set-pieces inside this journey. 

A well-developed character seamlessly and fluidly becomes part of the plot because the plot is dictated by them trying to get what they want and learning what they need. 

Make sense? 

Let me know what you think and how you liked Soul in the comments. 

What's next? Get our free screenwriting eBook

So much of what we're talking about on No Film School when it comes to screenwriting is summarized in our new eBook. It also helps guide you through a 10-week writing plan that will get your script actually finished.      

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yes greated

February 28, 2021 at 5:16PM

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