Here is the definition for my favorite new word: vector

vec·tor: 1) : a quantity that has magnitude and direction and is commonly represented by a directed line segment whose length represents the magnitude and whose orientation in space represents the direction; 2) : a course or compass heading especially of an airplane.

I love this term! And not surprisingly, it’s one that, for me, relates to storytelling — and to life!

In storytelling, whenever I hear the pitch of the movie you’re working on, the first thing I ask about it is: “What does the hero want?” The hero must be proactive throughout. He must want something — and want it badly! The more someone wants to do something, the more we root for them — as long as we sympathize with them, that is! But it always helps if the hero’s want is clear and strongly held. In short, he must have a mission that, to quote our dictionary definition, has “magnitude and direction.”

This is all well and good for heroes of our stories. We can manipulate a hero’s “wants and needs” and should, because when we do it always makes for a better story.

But then comes the uncomfortable question: If we were the hero of our own story (and we most certainly are), what would we characterize as our own want in life?

What’s our vector?

What is driving us with “magnitude and direction” to get up each day, open our eyes to the new opportunities offered us, and give our best to fufill our mission?

Watching the Academy Awards last night, I was taken by how many people spoke of having imagined themselves standing in front of the world to receive that famous gold statue. The annual Oscar telecast is always a good time to “account for yourself” for participants in the film business, like going home for Thanksgiving and reporting in to your family on how you’re doing, and what goals for the new year you hope to achieve.

And it is clear from last night’s show that all of us have a shot at that moment in front of the microphone if we want it.

Diablo Cody, winner of Best Original Screenplay for her script Juno, was a first-time screenwriter. Her screenplay represents everything we have discussed when it comes to writing a successful story. It’s primal. It gives us “the same thing… only different.” It has unique and compelling characters. And it is structured beautifully. In interviews, Cody herself has talked about being self-taught in her screenplay skills. Her ability to write a great story came from what we also recommend — watching a lot of movies! For whether picked up by osmosis or learned in school, the skills we need to win are the same. And Cody had the key ingredient we all need to succeed; she had passion.

She had vector!

The other thing the Oscar telecast highlighted for me, once again, are the extraordinary number of possiblities for us to succeed as writers here in the 21st Century. Whether our goal is to write a big, four-quadrant popcorn movie only the major studios can deliver, or a little $100,000 budgeted movie like Once (which won its creators an Oscar for Best Original Song and a moment in the spotlight they will never forget), there are more opportunities for writers now than at any time in history.

It’s a good time to assess how we intend to arrive at our ultimate destination like the heroes that we are! In the same way the first day of the New Year gives us a chance to make our resolutions, the day after the Oscars offers film people a similar moment. Whether your mission is get a sale or get an Oscar, your passion must be in full stride to succeed. My mission is to bring the concepts of storytelling to anyone who wants them and to assist you in reaching your goal any way I can. That is my vector! And I’ve never felt better in my whole life about what I’m doing. It gets me bouncing out of bed every day, eager to write you back if you email me, read the script you send me, or prepare for the next talk I’m giving that hopefully will give you even one nugget of information that might make the difference to you. I have my vector.

What’s yours?

I hope that whether your vision is standing up in front of the world to receive a gold statue or just getting a movie made that tickles your fancy… and hopefully tickles others too… that you jump in today with passion, excitement, and the desire to do your very best! If you can, you’ll go a long way in making your dream come true — and mine too!

Congratulations to all the nominees who were honored last night, and let’s hope we see some of you up there next year! It can happen. And will. With the proper magnitude and direction we most certainly can do anything heroes are capable of.