I have recently decided to give you valuable content so you see, whenever I write a writing lesson post for you I feel it’s just not good enough. After all I actually want you to learn something not just get half built second hand information.
So it wasn’t once or even twice that I started a post and then shook my head and said to myself BUT THEY ALREADY KNOW THIS!
Nearly four times I wrote something and deleted it.
Luckily this is that fourth time and as you can probably tell I have not yet deleted my stupid ramblings instead I will continue to write this post and it will be about…. um…
3 steps to good goals.
YES! That’s it.
Define your character’s goal.
So what is a character goal?
The easy answer is it’s the thing your character wants but a little more complicated. You see while it is something your character wants it needs to drive your character to do things. It needs to make them active.
A goal is also specific with a clear way of achieving it.
A good example of a goal is my wish to be a published writer. It makes me active, makes me write and blog and research agents and genres. My goal has a clear end point that states that if I get published then it’s achieved.
That’s what a goal is and what your character needs.
In my story that I’m working on my main character Felix has the goal of mastering his magic power. (cliché I know)
It drives him to practice and to train and even talk to people who can help.
It has a clear point where if it takes the commanded form he has it under control.
The next thing you need to make your goals important to your readers is something that has many names. Some call it a dreadful promise, or something to dread but I like to call it stakes.
This is what will happen if your character fails to achieve his goals.
You get two types of stakes, the kind that is fulfilled and the kind that your character evades. I prefer the kind that is fulfilled and plan on using it for my next story but I’ll give more on the details of making that work in a moment
First you need an effective stake.
Ask yourself why is your character going after this goal?
Then ask yourself what is he risking by doing this?
Lastly ask yourself who would want to see him fail? This is usually the antagonist or villain.
Now that you have all those questions answered ask one last question what is the worst thing that can happen to my character while he is attempting this goal?
Based off what you know now create your stakes.
If I continue on with my story as an example then Felix’s stakes are losing his position of power. If he doesn’t master his goal then he will lose his position in the ranks of his family’s army.
Just like the goal itself the stakes needs to be clear and precise.
Now as promised let’s talk about fulfilled stakes and why I prefer them.
You have been telling your reader that something bad can happen but if you don’t let it happen it means that at the end of the book these stakes appear void. After all they didn’t happen so there probably wasn’t any way that it was going to happen anyway. If none of your stakes for your goals big or small happen then it’s simply a character breaking his or her way through the opposition with nothing ever going wrong which means no real tension.
Let’s say these stakes are fulfilled and your character is thrown into some deep trouble, now your reader starts to worry and your character needs to be resourceful. Your reader gets to see so much more than just your character walking over everything that can go wrong and instead sees them handling the problems.
If you are going to go with fulfilled stakes then there is one thing I need to mention here.
Just fulfilling the stakes isn’t enough, you need to make things worse.
Everything is going bad but your reader already in part knew that this could happen so now you add on top of this something that they didn’t know. You make failing the goal even worse.
Let’s say your readers knew your characters where dangling over a pit and now you make your characters fall in. It’s bad but it’s also expected. What isn’t expected is the monster living in the pit and thus that monster makes falling in the pit even worse than your reader first anticipated.
Now it’s time for the last thing that makes your reader care about the goals. It might just be the most important one in fact.
For some writers it’s against our nature to hurt our beloved character who we sculpted out with so much love. You mustn’t fall for this though, if you want your readers to care your character needs to suffer.
Readers know a goal is important when a character goes to great length to get it. A goal is important when a character is willing to offer things and get hurt to achieve it.
There are different levels of suffering but first I want to cover physical vs. Emotional.
Physical is the level of suffering new writers tend to fall on and it’s a mistake I’ve made quite a few times myself but emotional suffering is stronger.
I’ll use lord of the rings for a reference here since I watched it just the other day.
Frodo got stabbed quite a few times in the movies and we cared but not for long. I mean he got hurt but the physical pain only kept our interest momentarily whereas when we lost Gandalf the blow was emotional and it kept our attention. We were reminded that the goal is so important that Gandalf was sacrificed.
It kept our attention longer, made us want the goal more, and it made us sympathise with the characters.
Now for the other methods of suffering.
It starts at inconvenience. A character wants something and is willing to inconvenience himself for the goal. This doesn’t really make the reader care about the goal but it works at the beginning of a story to just capture their interest.
Then it goes to discomfort. At some point the character starts taking the goal even more serious and is willing to discomfort himself. Perhaps it’s by doing something such as staying outside a store all night to be the first in line for a new toy.
The next one is real physical pain.This is when the character cuts off their own finger or jump in front of the cracking whip. It’s when they are willing to be hurt for their goal.
The last stage is loss.This one hurts the most because it means you are willing to give something that meant so much to you away for this goal.
It’s Rupunzel’s hair being cut off to stop the witch in tangled or Anna running to Elsa instead of Christoff to catch Hans’s sword.
In Harry Potter it’s when he willingly goes to Voldamort.
All these heroes knew they were going to lose everything but still threw it away to achieve their goal.
Tip: when you make your character suffer it’s good to make the suffering grow worse and not less throughout the book.
I hope this helped and that you are at least a little excited to go planning out your character’s goals.
Let me know if you like this post and know that my next writing lesson will be next month somewhere. Until then you can go take a look at these other writing lessons.
Now go and make your stories the best you can and remember that striving toward goals will make readers love your character more than achieving it.