Got Character Goals?

Goal DefinitionIt’s a new year and every blog I go to is talking about goals or resolutions and yes, I am, too, but bear with me as this post applies to the craft of writing, not your personal goals. 

Goals as craft, you ask?  Yes, I say.  Two ways goals are used when crafting your story come to mind immediately, though I’m sure there are more.   Let’s tackle the first today.

There is the quintessential GMC of Deb Dixon fame.  Goal, Motivation & Conflict.  The big three of character creation.  I’m leaving a discussion of the merits of motivation and conflict for another day because today’s goal is,  well, goals. 

Every character needs a goal, two in fact, one internal (emotional) and one external (action).  I think of them as needs and wants, respectively, as in what does the character need in order to be happy/whole/sane/etc. and what does the character think she wants right now.  (Feel free to substitute “he” for every “she” if that fits your story better.)

Without a goal your character has nothing to learn in your story (that’s from the internal goal) and nothing to do (that’s from the external goal).  Goal’s can be big or small — though when talking characters, bigger is usually more compelling. 

Goals drive your plot. 

Did you get that?  What your character needs and wants drives what happens in the story — aka, your plot.  If your character needs to learn to trust in order to be happy again (an internal goal), then your story better put that character in positions where she has to learn how to trust, and that trust must be tested, hard, so the character learns the lesson deep in her bones.  And if what the character wants (that external goal) is at odds with what she needs (wants to be a hermit so she never has to trust anyone again) you’ve got serious internal conflict to make the reader turn the page… but I’m getting ahead of myself here.   I’ll save conflict for another day.

Set Goals Blackboard

So, in the spirit of the New Year and the annual frenzy of resolutions and goal setting, do you know what your current protagonist’s goals are?  What about your villain?  If you are writing a romance or anything that has a romance in it, you need to know both the hero’s and the heroine’s goals.  See if you can write them down, one sentence per goal:

My character needs…

My character wants…

If you can’t hone it down to one simple, clear, statement per goal I’m betting you don’t have a good handle on that character yet, and you very well may have a muddy plot.   So get to work and make your characters set some goals.  it’s a great way to start a new year!

Tune in tomorrow for my other craft related goal.  This one is all about pacing.

Happy New Year!


2 Responses

  1. I found your ‘Got Character Goal?’ blog so incredibly useful. I have Debra Dixon’s book and have read and re-read it, but your blog was my lightbulb moment. Yay! I was wondering if you’ll be blogging about Character Motivation and Character Conflict? And if so when.

    Thank you again for posting this

  2. Kendra,

    So glad you found the post useful! It took me years to figure out exactly what all that internal/external stuff really meant. I’ve been meaning to continue that for motivation and conflict to round out the classic trio. It’s on my to-blog list and I’ll try to get one up soon!

    Thanks for stopping by!


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