Character/Plot Development - 2nd follow-up

by John
(Woods Cross, UT, USA)

Question: Okay, sorry about all my frivolous questions, but here is one more.

Thanks to your advice, and your amazing website, I've developed some of the Story Goals that I want to have accomplished by the end of my first book. But..... I'm worried about them. Is it okay to have more than one Story Goal for a novel?
So here are some of the goals/conflicts I came up with.
1. They must find a powerful scroll before the evil guys do.
2. They must find out who the Legendary Warrior is, and when he will arrive to bring peace.
3. There is a traitor
4. Most importantly, the main character must learn his lesson and overcome his inner conflict.

So my main question is: Do I make all the conflicts and mysteries get solved right at the climax for a (hopefully) smashing ending? Or, do they solve one at a time, and leave the most important one for last? Will it make the middle part boring if I do the smashing climax?

Answer: You actually have a number of questions here. I wouldn't call any of them frivolous. But let's take them one at a time...

First, when we talk about the Story Goal, we mean the big goal of the main or overall plot. It's the goal that involves or affects most of the characters. Characters will have their individual goals as well, but the Story Goal is the common thread that links them. In this case, I'm guessing your goal #1 (getting the scroll) is the Story Goal. (Most stories in the Western tradition have a goal of Obtaining.)

Your #4, the the main character's inner conflict, deals with the main character's goal or concern. It is important that he have such a concern, because it adds emotional depth to the story. The main character's throughline runs parallel to the overall throughline. So while the overall story goes through the four stages of inciting incident -> complication -> crisis -> resolution, the main character will go from an initial way of being or doing things -> being pressured to change -> deciding whether to change -> reaping the results of that decision.

Where these two throughlines are linked is at the crisis, because it is the main character's decision whether or not to change that determines whether the Story Goal is achieved.

In some stories, the main character's decision occurs almost at the same time as the crisis. In others, the main character may arrive at the crisis, run away, think about things (perhaps be influenced by the impact character), decide whether to change, then return to deal with the crisis. It's up to you how to stage this.

Of course, you can have more than one story in a novel, each having a separate Story Goal and main character, but to develop multiple stories fully may require an epic-length book (which publishers are less likely to want from a new writer).

As for your other two goals...

Learning about the Legendary Warrior sounds like a set-up for the series as a whole. Perhaps it's the inciting incident? You could break it down into a subplot within the first novel - like a mystery whose importance gradually unfolds until the reader is anxious to read the next book to find out more.

Regarding the traitor, I'm not sure how this is a goal. Is this traitor the impact character, who offers the main character an example of another way to be/act which the main character must accept or reject when he resolves his inner conflict? If so, the impact character will have his own throughline in which the main character sees the traitor's approach and is tempted to emulate him. Perhaps, it's like how the villain, Long John Silver, influences the main character of Treasure Island? (Usually, if the main character changes, the impact character stays the same, and vice versa.) The impact character throughline will have its own 4-part sequence with a turning point that is also in act 3. And the traitor will have his own personal concern or goal.

Last question... You want to have both a smashing climax AND a compelling middle. Assuming you're heading for a happy ending, the middle, act 2, or the complication phase of a story should be the place where tension builds and the problems increase or worsen. (If your writing a tragedy, the middle is where events get more complex but also better for your hero.) You're taking the reader on a roller coaster ride that's going uphill, building towards the climax.

Act 3 is where the crisis occurs. It is where the events, decisions, actions, happen that determine the resolution. The crisis of the overall throughline, the main character's decision, the impact character's turning point, and the turning point of their relationship, all happen in this act. Whether that means a number of different scenes or one big scene where all these events take place is up to you.

The final part, or act 4, is where you show how things turn out as a result of what happened. Is the main character happier? Was the goal achieved? Is the world/community a better place for everyone? What happens to the impact character? Did the villain get his just desserts? Fourth acts are often the shortest, but still necessary.

Again, best of luck.

Comments for Character/Plot Development - 2nd follow-up

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Jan 27, 2012
Thank you SO much, again
by: John

Great response. It helped me a lot. Yeah, the Legendary Warrior thing, the quest for the scroll, and the main character's inner conflict are all intertwined. Once one goal of these goals is achieved, the others will be easier to acheive or solve. (and might be solved at the same time)

With the traitor, I want to have it so that the traitor is someone the main character looked up to, and taught him a few things, but it won't be his gaurdian or uncle or something.

Thank you sooo much for your time, patience, concern, advice, and your website. I think I am ready to finish the outline of my book and start writing the first draft like a true pantser! :)

Feb 04, 2012
Great questions, excellent answers
by: Zoe

Thank you for such insightful answers to complex questions. What you both are achieving here is helping new and more seasoned writers create some quality expression for the world! Thank you for your time and energy.

Dec 14, 2012
kung fu
by: Anonymous

have you ever seen kung fu panda john?

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