Every novel must have a story goal and that goal should be clearly stated for the reader.
Let me say that again: every novel must have a story goal.
In my novel, Heaven Scent, Liza is the main character. Her father has become obsessed with his career and has seemingly abandoned his family. Liza desperately wants her father back in her life. She wants her family to be as it once was.
Throughout the book, she works toward the goal of trying to restore her family to its once happy state. In the first chapter, Liza clearly states this goal and she continues to restate it throughout the book.
Readers need to know what the goal is and what’s at stake if the goal is not obtained. Without a clear character story goal, the reader gets lost and never fully engages with the story because the reader won’t know what or who to root for.
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Begin With The Main Character
The main character must have something she works toward, something she desperately wants, and if she does not obtain that something her life will not be the same. The reader needs to know how the character’s life will suffer if she doesn’t reach her goal. This creates empathy in your reader and makes the reader want to keep reading your book to see what happens.
The story goal becomes the story question. For example, in my novella, Adding Christmas, Chloe Henderson wants a promotion at the advertising agency where she works That’s her goal. Her goal becomes the story question: Will Chloe receive the promotion at work? The rest of the book answers that question.
Keep in mind that there can be different answers to the main character’s story question. The answer can be: yes, she attains the goal and her life is now much better. The answer can be: yes, she attains the goal, but her life is worse off. The answer can be: no, she doesn’t reach her goal and her life suffers for it. The answer can be: no, she doesn’t attain the goal, but she reaches something else (or possibly the abstract goal but in a different form) that is much better for her.
Readers Want to Root for Characters
Readers want to root for characters, so be aware of that if you choose a story line where the character ends up worse off. Generally, it’s best to stick with: yes, she attains the goal and her life is better, or no, she doesn’t reach her goal but instead reaches something better (i.e. doesn’t get the job she was hoping to get but gets one much better suited for her).
Romance stories often employ the “something better.” For example, in my free novella, Best Kind of Love, the main character, Brynn, is flying back to her hometown to attend her high school reunion. Her story goal is to be reunited with the young man she had a crush on in high school. The story question is: Will Brynn be reunited with Troy and discover romance?
Brynn works toward that goal (and readers keep reading to see the answer to the story question). When she seemingly has it, she actually doesn’t, and things turn out much better for her.
For that character the answer was: no for her goal, but something better instead.
The main character’s major goal becomes the story goal.
The story goal is the overarching goal. There will be many smaller goals–in fact, each scene should have a goal–but the “big” goal is the story goal/story question.
What Does Your Character Want?
To determine the story goal you need to know what it is that your main character wants. What is it that she thinks will solve her problem or make her life better/easier/more amazing?
A new job? A husband? A child? A new house? Fame? Riches? A trip to Europe? Running her own business? Solving a murder?
The best way to find out what your character wants is to get to know her. You can get to know your character by:
- Filling out a character sheet with her physical attributes
- Interviewing her
- Freewriting in her point of view
- Writing some dialogue snippets
- Thinking about her
The better you know her, the easier it will be to know her goals and aspirations and be able to narrow down her goal for this particular story (because you may write more stories with this character so be specific about her goal for this story).
You also need to go through this process with your antagonist and secondary characters. All the main players in your book should have story goals.
Why Does Your Character Want That Goal?
Once you know what your character wants, you need to know why. Why is this goal so important? What’s the underlying reason the character wants this goal?
In Recovering Charles by Jason Wright, the main character, Luke Millward, wants to reconcile with his father. His search to do so leads him to New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina. Throughout the book, the reader wonders if Luke will be able to move beyond the past and repair his relationship with his father.
The story goal is very clear as well as the reason for it.
Understanding why the character wants the stated goal helps develop empathy in the reader. Not only does the reader know the goal, but she also understands why it’s so important and that makes her want to keep turning pages.
How to State the Goal
The reader must know the story goal. The clearer the goal is stated, the better.
The story goal can be stated through dialogue, actions, reactions, and inner thoughts. A character can state her goal in a conversation with another character. She can make it very obvious in her actions or reactions to events. She can also state her goal in her own thoughts and by the way she views the world.
In The Hunger Games, we know that Katniss’s goal is to take care of her family. Whatever it takes, she’s going to take care of them. She is a survivor. It isn’t any surprise that she volunteers to be a tribute (action) and it isn’t any surprise that she plans to win (action, dialogue, inner thoughts). Her goals to take care of her family and survive are very clear.
Story Goal Propels Story Forward
The story goal, or the desire to achieve it, propels the story forward. Without one, the story will flounder and finally fizzle. As a writer, you must be aware of the story goal and design smaller, scene goals that work toward the overall story goal.
The story goal of the antagonist/villain should be in direct opposition to the hero/heroine. Make sure you set goals for each of your characters and that your story has a clearly defined overall goal .
You’ll not only have an easier time writing toward it, you’ll have readers anxious to read to the end to see what happens.
To Sum It Up
Every novel must have a story goal. To determine the goal, ask yourself:
- What does the character want?
- Why does the character want that goal?
- What will happen if she doesn’t obtain the goal?
If you can answer these questions about your main characters, you will be able to write a story people want to read.
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