Posted by: Kerry Gans | December 8, 2011

Character Goals in Fiction

I talked last week about the Premise in fiction, and how it can help underpin your entire story. I mentioned briefly in that post that clarifying character goals was also recommended to help make my middle grade manuscript The Egyptian Enigma more focused.

One of the exercises developmental editor Kathryn Craft suggested to me was to go through the entire manuscript and write down the characters’ goals for every scene. If your main character’s goal in the scene is not somehow related to the book’s overall story goal, then the scene is either not needed or needs to be reworked.

I figured that would be easy. I mean, my main character is doing all these things to try and accomplish a specific story goal, right? So obviously he has a goal in every scene.

Turns out, not so much.

Or rather, his goal sometimes has nothing to do with the main story goal he is pursuing. When his goal is to set the table, that doesn’t do much to forward the plot. That scene can go.

And of course you must remember that your main character is not the only character in the scene with a goal. Every character in a scene has their own goals they are trying to accomplish—and ideally they should be conflicting with the main character’s goal. This creates tension and conflict in every scene.

This scene-goal exercise does not take a very long time to do. The real trick is to be honest with yourself while doing it. Don’t write the goals you meant your main character to have—write the goals he actually has as written on the page. Once you do that, excess scenes become very clear.

So, to recap: Your main character will have a story goal—what he is trying to accomplish in that book. If your book is part of a series, he has a series goal, which will be resolved in the final book of the series. But he also needs to have scene goals, which drive the scene, give it purpose, and forward the overall plot. Other characters will also have scene goals which will conflict, obstruct, or sometimes coincide with the main character’s goals.

That’s a whole lot of goals—but looking at them closely will give you a tighter focus to your entire book.

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Responses

  1. I feel as if we are on this joyrney with you. Good luck!

    Like

  2. Good stuff, Kerry…sounds simple but I will be applying it to my MS and I know it wont be!

    Like

    • Donna, It’s not easy–but it sure makes the focus of your story a lot clearer! Good luck!

      Like


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