Make The Goal A Compelling

A capricious whim won't do as a goal. Give your main character a mission that is meaningful, even life-changing, with significant consequences if she succeeds or fails. After all, you're about to put her through a certain amount of grief. She must have a strong reason to put up with it.

Readers should have a clear sense of the protagonist's goal at the beginning and throughout the narrative. She needn't announce it loudly. She may not even have great insight about it; she could be muddled or confused or self-deluded, as we all are at times. Her purpose might change in response to events that occur. But through her actions and reactions, her words and her thoughts, her goal should become apparent to us.

Don't forget to look at the goal behind the goal. What people say—or think—they want often is not the real issue. The underlying why can be even more important. Thomas's ambition to become a doctor may hide his true desire, which is to prove to his father that he is not a bumbling fool after all. Andrea may be desperate to marry Jeff because she loves him, as she proclaims, but perhaps what she really wants is to escape the violence or poverty or emotional coldness of her parents' home. The goal may appear to be a rational decision, and it may indeed make sense for purely logical reasons. But when it stems from a deep-seated emotional need or an unhealed wound, it can add a richer dimension to the character and to the story.

Note that the character's goal is not the same as the story goal that we discussed in Chapter One. The story goal is what is motivating you, the author. The character's goal is hers alone.

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