Story Goal

by Sem
(Los Angeles)

Question: Just in your own opinion, is defending something an effective story goal? I doubted that's kinda passive?


Answer: For example, a man defending his family, his friends, his country, or his planet from attack? Let's face it, the number of examples where this type of story goal has been effective are legion.

What makes defense work as a Goal is that it is attached to a very clear Consequence -- the destruction of something valuable to the protagonist. And it is the Consequence that gives the Goal its importance.

You could have a very mundane sounding goal, such as standing guard over a switch, but if pulling that switch would end the world, the task of protecting it becomes all-important.

It also helps if the threat is very clear (Forewarnings). For instance, if there are numerous powerful agents all trying to reach and pull the switch, so that the protagonist has to put everything on the line to defend it, and if the biggest, baddest agent has just reared his head... you get the picture.

Of course, it is the writer's job to illustrate these story elements in a way that the reader can perceive the importance of the Goal.

I would also point out that most courtroom dramas are based on a Goal of defense -- defending an innocent person against the Consequence of being found guilty. Being sent to jail is not the end of the world, but it is more than enough that it matters to the characters and that the threat is credible.

For that matter, think of how emotionally engaged sports fans are when they watch their team defend a soccer or hockey net. Don't try telling them, "it's only a game played with a piece of rubber." The level of fans emotional engagement can be higher than if they were soldiers in an actual war. Why? Because athletic games include many of the same elements as a good story -- a clearly articulated Goal, Consequence, Forewarnings, and Requirements; not to mention characters the viewer can care about and identify with, relationships (friends, antagonists, etc.), and an outcome that validates or invalidates the players choices and actions.

A follow up question: What do you call a character who impels both protagonist and antagonist? Thanks in advance.

Answer: I think it's generally stronger for the protagonist and antagonist to act based on their own reasons. The progatonist should be the character who represents the drive to achieve the goal while the antagonist should represent the drive to avoid it. If you assign these drives to other characters, then it becomes less clear who the real protagonist and antagonist are.

That said, the other archetypal characters can make arguments that help the protagonist come to the decision that the Goal is important.

The Guardian, for instance, represents the drive to look at the long-term consequences of choices. He/she can make an argument about what's really important in the grand scheme. On the other hand, the Contagonist, who argues for taking the easy route or short-term rewards could be right, depending on the situation.

A Reason character might present a logical argument for accomplishing the Goal ("If we don't draw a line here, we will cede too many resources to be able to defend against future attacks."). An Emotion character might make an argument based on feelings ("Win this one for little Timmy!").

But in the end, the protagonist should be the one who weighs up these arguments and decides that the Goal must be achieved.

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