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3 Examples of Objectives in Screenplays

Updated: Nov 15, 2022


3 Examples of Screenplay Objectives

In a feature screenplay, an Objective is the protagonist’s tangible, timely goal they must strive to reach before the end of the story. Objectives serve a few different purposes: they root the story so there is always forward momentum, keeping audiences hooked, and they provide built-in stakes for the protagonist, which elevates the drama and conflict. A character constantly in pursuit of their Objective is compelling for audiences, because it showcases the pathway the character must take, and allows for great obstacles to get in the way.


The Objective is the fall-out from the Inciting Incident–what the protagonist must do in order to solve the dramatic problem presented. Let’s look at some Objectives from great screenplays and examine what they added to the story. Looking for screenplays to read? The Young Screenwriters Script Vault is stuffed with features and pilots to learn from! You can also check out Professor John Warren’s Classic Film List for some old-school inspiration.


WINTER’S BONE  | Coffee Class | Screenplay


2010’s WINTER’S BONE is a gritty independent film, and an introduction to the star who would become Jennifer Lawrence. It’s a great example of utilizing setting and tone as a way to develop characters and stakes. 


The teenage protagonist, Ree, struggles to care for her family because her father, Jessup, hasn’t come home. After being visited by the Sheriff, Ree discovers that if her father doesn’t show up for his upcoming court date, the family will lose their house, as it was put up for a bond.


The Objective: Find her father before the court date, or lose the house.


The Objective in WINTER’S BONE isn’t just a goal; it carries built-in stakes and provides a ticking clock for the character. If Ree doesn’t find her father, her family will lose their house, which is the only thing keeping them alive in the harsh landscape of the Ozarks. Even beyond that, Ree needs to find her father within a set time frame, which spurs her to action. 


What screenwriters can learn from this: Ensuring the Objective is tangible, timely, and heightens the stakes will create tension and draw the audience in.

LADY BIRD – Coffee Class | Screenplay


LADY BIRD is Greta Gerwig’s solo directorial debut, and a great study of how a coming-of-age film can utilize character to create a wonderful story. In the film, Christine “Lady Bird” MacPherson longs to attend a college on the East Coast and get away from her hometown of Sacramento. 


The Objective: attend an east-coast college despite her mother’s objections.


The conflict arises mainly from Lady Bird’s mother, Marion, who disapproves of this idea, and because the family isn’t wealthy. Lady Bird wants something that could actively hurt the rest of the family, which creates a rising conflict between mother and daughter.


LADY BIRD succeeds as a coming-of-age film because the Objective is built in to the relationship between Lady Bird and her mother Marion. Every obstacle in the film pulls on the thread of their connection, and this creates emotional, character-driven moments that are beautiful to experience.


What screenwriters can learn from this: Tie the Objective into the emotional journeys of the characters.

THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING – Coffee Class | Screenplay


THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING is classic fantasy, and features the Hero’s Journey in a more obvious way. In the world of Middle Earth, the One Ring must be destroyed before the dark lord Sauron can use it to take over. Our protagonist is the unlikely hobbit hero Frodo Baggins.


The Objective: Transport the One Ring to Mordor to be destroyed.


The reason this Objective works, and has withstood the test of time, is because of the layers of built-in conflict and stakes that surround the mythos of the One Ring. The immediate stakes rise as soon as Frodo sets off on his adventure, as he is being chased by the Nazgûl. This threat presents a rising tension as Frodo and the other hobbits must escape them. There are also conflicts within each of the Fellowship groups we come across: the elves, the dwarves, and the complicated human struggle for succession.


There are also more emotional stakes, such as the corruption Frodo experiences the longer he is in possession of the ring. Throughout the story, his pure nature becomes darker and more obsessive, which is highlighted with the threat of the result of this corruption in the character Gollum. 


What screenwriters can learn from this: Building out the world to include consequences at every turn will deepen the story.


Determining the right Objective is critical to a strong story, but it’s also important to examine how that Objective can be tied into the world, the characters, and the stakes of the narrative to increase the conflict and drama. By weaving the Objective into every element of conflict, we can create more compelling stories, whether it’s an epic fantasy tale or a sweet coming-of-age drama.



Hungry for more screenwriting education? Young Screenwriters has a range of courses for every writer on each step of their journey! Get started with our FREE Writing the Short and Writing the Scene courses to learn the basics. 


When you’re ready to take the next step, sign up for Writing the Feature and learn NYU Professor John Warren’s complete writing process, including generating powerful film ideas, forming dynamic character arcs, creating beat sheets and outlines, and finishing that screenplay with proper formatting and a plan for what’s next. Writing the Feature is the perfect way to work on that screenplay from start to finish, and our Discord community will lift you up every step of the way!

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