(Okay, technically that was two questions, I lied). If you’re not sure about your answer or you’re sitting there scratching your head, you have some work to do!
It’s crucial for your hero to have a goal. If he doesn’t, you have no story. “Well why not?” you ask?
Because your hero’s goal is what drives the story. It’s the story’s purpose. Like a ripple effect, it influences your entire plot.
What is Your Hero’s Goal?
A novel is essentially a story about a character who wants something and sets out to get it, faces challenges along the way, and either fails or succeeds to attain his desire.
So, what does your character want?
- Frodo wants to destroy the ring.
- Katniss wants to win the Hunger Games.
- The Pevensie siblings want to end the rule of the White Witch in Narnia.
If your character doesn’t want anything, there’s no point in telling his story. Actually, without a goal you don’t have a story–just a string of random events. Your hero’s goal is what unifies events into a plot.
Be sure to make it clear as soon as possible what your character’s goal is. Of course you’ll spend time in the beginning setting up your characters and plot, but don’t wait until halfway through your story to clue readers in to your hero’s goal.
If readers don’t know the goal, the story will feel pointless and random, with no clear direction. They might even begin to wonder if you know where you’re going with this thing. And you do know, don’t you? 😉
What are the Stakes?
What happens if your hero doesn’t achieve his goal? These consequences are called stakes.
- If Frodo doesn’t destroy the ring, Sauron will take over Middle Earth, destroy his home, and enslave or kill his friends.
- If Katniss doesn’t win the Hunger Games, she will die and there won’t be anyone to provide for her mother and sister.
- If the Pevensie siblings don’t defeat the White Witch, Narnia will be trapped in eternal winter and they will either be killed or stuck and unable to return home.
Stakes give your character a reason to fight. When creating your stakes, make it personal to the hero in some way so the fight is his. With your goal and stakes clearly presented in your story, the reader will be able to pull for your character and it will give them a reason to keep reading.
What Obstacles are in the Way?
Every scene should move your character closer to or further from his goal in some way. What is keeping your character from getting what he wants? What does he have to overcome?
- To destroy the ring, Frodo has to evade wraiths and orcs and travel all the way to Mordor.
- To win the Hunger Games, Katniss is faced with killing other opponents, which goes against what she believes in.
- To defeat the White Witch, the Pevensie siblings must battle her army.
There are tons of obstacles in a story, some large and some small. Some may be physical and others may be internal. But always your character should be facing some sort of opposition. That’s what keeps your reader reading–to find out if the hero will overcome the challenges and win!
If your story feels off-track or meandering, consider your character’s goal. You may have lost sight of it, or you may not be letting it drive your story.
Use Goal When Plotting
Now that you understand how your character’s goal shapes your plot, take advantage of it. Whenever I have ideas for a new story and I’m trying to come up with a plot, I start by asking myself what this character wants.
I used to create plots by stringing together scenes I thought were cool or exciting, with just the vague idea that in the end my hero would defeat the villain. This worked okay, but I ended up with a lot of unnecessary scenes, the story would wander, and the hero didn’t have a personal reason for saving the world (Really, he could have just saved himself all the trouble and stayed at home and let someone else do it!).
Starting off plotting with my character’s goal has helped me tremendously. It has made my plots clearer and tighter and has helped me to develop a plot much faster. This strategy may not work for everyone, but whether or not you start planning your story with your character’s goal you will definitely need to give it attention.
Do you know what your character’s goal is in your current story?