Click one of the links below to take you to our new home!

Friday, January 12, 2007

Ficiton Friday
Character Goals and Motivation

A goal is like an agenda. Something the character wants. It has to be hard to get. Readers like to see the character struggle. They like to know what the character wants, but they have absolutely no idea how she'll get it. Your audience wants to live moment-by-moment through your character's life, feeling all the setbacks. For the reader to immerse herself in the character's struggles, first the reader must understand your character's goal. It's your job as a writer to clearly identify the goal then point your character toward getting that goal.

A good goal is something that the character wants but they don't have. It sounds simple and obvious, doesn't it? But this is something that beginning writers sometimes do. Don't have characters want more of what they already have. This creates weak characters. Characters should desperately need what they don't have yet. Dangle an apple in front of a character who hasn't eaten a bite in weeks. This will make that apple dire. That apple becomes something your character desperately needs to survive.

What makes life so unpredictable is that we all want something, we all have agendas, and when those agendas collide, well, something's gotta give. Make your character actively go after that goal. Make another character go after something else . . . or the same thing. You see a collision coming? Oops, I'm getting ahead of myself by talking about conflict, which will be in another article. Anyway, you can keep that idea in mind as you think up a goal for your main character, (also called the protagonist).

But remember, when you think up a goal, that character has to take action. Action makes plot. And in order to write a book, you need plot, and plot moves the story forward. (Webster defines plot as a plan for designing a building or novel). Why not let the characters create plot for you? Let them struggle throughout the book toward their goals. The havoc they wreak will make an excellent story!

Okay we know the goal must be something important, something the character doesn't have. We must also must make the goal urgent. Failure to get this goal will create dire consequences for the character. An example of this would be something like this: A mother needs to find a kidney for her child. Let's make it urgent -- A mother needs to find a kidney for her child who is dying. Let's add a ticking bomb to that goal by placing a time limit -- A mother needs to find a kidney for her child who has two weeks to live.

The above example is an external goal. It's something tangible, that we can feel, touch, hear or smell. Getting a kidney is something physical, so it's external. If the character has to feel it(experience emotion) in order to achieve it, that is something inside the character and is an internal goal. If you want multi-dimensional characters, (and you do!), you've got to have an internal goal. In Star Wars, Luke Skywalker wants to defeat the Death Star. That's a tangible goal, something physical. What is his internal goal? He wants to live in a safe world where his loved ones are not endangered. That's something emotional.

In the example with the mother who wants a kidney for her son who has two weeks to live, what could be her internal goal? She wants her child to have a healthy, long life. This makes her multi-layered, makes her have an emotional component working hand-in-hand with the external goal or plot.

In KISSED BY MAGIC, Kain is the protagonist. His external goal is to own the Nottingham Blue dye. His internal goal is to hold himself aloof from others. Why? you ask. The why is very important. It's what makes the goal believable.

He doesn't understand exactly why, but later he will. His external goal of wanting the dye is because the color reminds him of his brother's eyes. He is driven to own the dye becaue of his love for his deceased brother. The hero believes he's responsible for his death. He was always the dark brother, the evil one -- and his brother was always good and kind. The hero is so full of remorse over the events that led to his brother's death that he doesn't feel as if he deserves love or happiness. So he ostracizes himself from society.

See how closely the internal and external goals and motivations are woven together? If you can hit upon closely related internal/external goals and motivations, your story will be all that more stronger.

Gloria Harchar
email or visit Gloria at

No comments: