What is it You Really Want? Finding Your Objectives


If you’ve had any training in acting, you’ve come across the idea of objectives. While I’m not a master in using them effectively, I’ve improved and found principles I thought I’d share in order for you to act as believably as possible.

Laura Bond, author of TEAM For Actors: A Holistic Approach to Embodied Acting, has a section in her book on objectives which helped me immensely. If you want further explanation, check it out here.

Objective – Something aimed at or striven for

Synonyms – aim, intention, goal

People are governed by what they want. Every human being has desires and acts accordingly – they are our driving force. The same applies to our characters.

Determining the objective of a character is a bit more complicated than thinking what your character wants in a scene. It’s easy to choose ineffective and weak objectives. Below are some guidelines to help you determine effective objectives:

Where are your character’s needs rooted?


First of all, you will need to understand your character’s basic needs and motivations.

Is your character seeking to fulfill basic physiological needs (hunger, thirst, sleep, physical comfort) or is your character desiring security (shelter, order, stability etc.)?

How about their social needs? Is your character primarily seeking love, acceptance and relationship, or is he/she really looking for ways to satisfy his/her ego (achievement, independence, prestige, recognition)?

Is your character driven to gain more knowledge or striving towards beauty? What if your character can’t be bothered by beauty, but ultimately seeks spiritual fulfilment?

Try to determine which of these needs your character is primarily seeking after, bearing in mind their needs and values might contradict your own.

E.g. “My character wants to be loved.”

Are you referring to your character in first person?


Rather than talking about your character in third person, identify with him/her as soon as possible by talking about your character in first person. This obviously applies to your objectives as well.

E.g. Instead of saying “She wants to be loved”, embody your character, bridging the distance by saying “I want to be loved …”.

Does your objective call for your partner’s participation?


This is straightforward. Don’t forget to involve your scene partner(s). The other character(s) is normally also the reason for conflict. If there’s no conflict, you will not captivate your audience.

What is your character’s relationship to the others in your scene? What do you want from them?

E.g. “I want him to show me he loves me.”

Are your objectives focused on what you want?


An easy trap to fall into is focusing on what your character doesn’t want. First, understand what he/she wants before you focus on the obstacles.

Figure out the positive aspects of your character’s journey.

E.g. Instead of saying “I don’t want him to fall in love with her”, say “I want him to show he loves me.”

What is the desired outcome?


What would be the perceived victory of the situation in the scene be for your character? What could the other character possibly do or say in order for you to feel victorious?

Make sure that you have a clear picture of what that would look like. Be specific.

E.g. Instead of defining your objective as “I want to be loved,” try “I want him to say ‘I love you’.”

Is your victory difficult to attain?


Creating a sense of urgency in the scene will aid you as the actor immensely.

Actors normally call this ‘raising the stakes of the scene’.

We have previously talked about imagining the perfect victory for your character. Let’s take it up a notch and make sure you’re selecting a victory extremely difficult to attain.

You might set them so high, the victory will never happen. Allow for the possibility, that way it doesn’t become unrealistic.

E.g. “I want him to say ‘I love you’ before the end of our date.”

Does your objective sustain the scene?


In other words, do your objectives motivate your character throughout the duration of the entire scene? If the victory happens in the middle of the scene, your character would have nothing left to fight for.

This goes further than the individual scene.

E.g. The previous example “I want him to say ‘I love you’ before the end of our date” only works if the scene ends when the date ends. If the above victory happens in the middle of the scene, the objective does not sustain the entire scene.

Do you have main objectives and scene objectives that carry your character through the scene/film/play? What are the general unsatisfied needs your character is wanting to fulfil, and what are the scene-specific needs in need of fulfillment?

Are your scene objectives in line with your main objectives?

Know the story.

Of course you need to have a good understanding of the story and its intention in order for you to be able to choose strong objectives. Your objectives have to be in line with the intentions of the script and your character’s given circumstances.


If you need to practice more, watch and analyze scenes of movies and other actors that were particularly engaging and see if you can find out what the objectives of the respective characters were.

I hope these guidelines help when you’re stuck and need a little inspiration.




Sometimes approaching a script might be a bit overwhelming or even underwhelming in some cases. It’s hard to understand the story and why your character is doing what he/she is doing etc. But often, everything is right there in the text, you just have to look for it.


But… fret not! Here are some helpful tips and guidelines that might help you in your endeavor to make your character come alive.




The advantage of reading it for the first time is that you as the actor are reading the script as a whole story, not just your part. It’s the only time you will read it as the audience. Even though it’s tempting to want to dive right in and start acting already, try to refrain from that in the first read.




Reading the script over and over again is a very helpful tool. Different things will be highlighted each time, the story will unfold and make more and more sense as you read it, you get a better understanding of the characters, their relationship to one another and of the story as a whole.


Anthony Hopkins mentioned that he reads the script 100-250 times as a preparation, “I learn the text cold, read it maybe 100 or 200 times […] It’s a trick I play on myself just to make sure I really know it. Then I’m at ease, and I can improvise. […] this gives me a tremendous sense of ease and the power of confidence.”


Let’s take an excerpt of the restaurant scene between Joanna and Ted from Kramer vs. Kramer (1979):




As you go through the script, highlight your lines of course, but make sure you take all the information the script gives you into regard. Work with the text, make it your own.


What does the script tell you about your character? What do other characters reveal about your character?


As the character, ask yourself:

    • Who am I?
    • Where am I?
    • When is it?
    • Where have I just come from?



From just this little section, we know that Joanna and Ted have been in a past relationship together, presumably married. We know that Joanna was the one who left Ted and their son, and that he has been caring for their son since then. She admits that she needed help from a therapist, and we get the idea that she had previously put her identity/value/purpose in the fact that she is a daughter, mother and wife which frustrated her. She tries to come off very confident, because she knows this is a very delicate topic between them and is careful about her wording. She is nervous about his response.




To get an overview of your character’s motives and objectives/goals, a helpful tool is to divide your script into ‘beats’. Legendary actress Uta Hagen explains that “a beat begins […] when an immediate objective sets in. It ends when that objective has succeeded or failed and new circumstances set in.”


What is your character trying to do? Is he/she trying to charm? Persuade? Convince? Guilt trip? Etc.



Remember to make your objectives strong active choices that will drive the story further and will heighten the stakes. Weak objectives won’t help you.


Joanna’s overall goal is to get her son back. She knows all the arguments Ted can use against her, so in her attempt to have Ted agree to give her custody of their son, she knows she’ll have to word her desire very carefully. But she’s also convinced that she did the right thing in finding out who she was and justifies herself.


While Ted sincerely wants to understand her reasoning at first, he clearly does not want to give her custody for their son. Opposing objectives create great conflict!




When going through the script, find the answers to the following questions in the script:

    • What do I want?
    • Why do I want it?
    • Why do I want it now?
    • What will happen if I don’t get it now?
    • How will I get what I want by doing what?
    • What must I overcome?


You can also refer to this article for more details and tips about these background questions.


While Joanna’s primary goal is to have her son back, subconsciously, she seems to prove to Ted and the world that she is a capable and independent woman. If she were to get her son back she would fulfill her role as a mother and make up for the mistake of leaving her son and Ted in the first place. If not, Ted will have won, she would be considered a failure and would have to live with guilt for the rest of her life. She has to overcome Ted’s refusal to give their boy back, and this is her first attempt after 15 months of being away.


This summary only starts to scratch the surface of Joanna’s internal fight, there is so much more depth to the whole situation, so make sure you go as deep as you can in your character development.




When rehearsing with your scene partner, I would recommend reading the script cold a couple of times before playing around with different approaches and objectives of your character. Even if it’s not the ultimate objective your character is going to have, have a go with different ones during rehearsal. It is especially effective when your character’s objective is the complete opposite of the other character.


E.g If your objective is to avoid the other person, it would be interesting to see how the scene unfolds if the other character is trying to flirt etc.


When practicing scenes like that for while, you’ll get to see different elements, connotations, accentuations that you hadn’t considered before, but might use for the actual performance – and of course… it’s a lot of fun.




Ultimately, every actor will have his/her preferred approach. Some things work, some things don’t. Play around with it, have fun, use your imagination in cases where you’re stuck and… don’t stress.