is it ok to have a more abstract story goal?

by Kacey

I came across this site while looking for writing tips online; of the many sites I saw, this has been the most helpful and comprehensive! I've never taken a writing class, and this is my first attempt at a book, so being able to ask a specific question like this is amazing! Thank you in advance for any thoughts or guidance you can give.

My main concern is whether I have a strong enough overall story goal. I don't have a big villain to defeat or a quest to undertake. The heart of the story is 7 friends struggling to make the transition from their teens into twenties, inspired by real feelings and experiences I've had and seen in my life. Each friend has their own story line and "battles" to fight (although I'm not going to try and tell all of each one). The story lines all connect because of the close bonds between them and the things they experience. I've selected 2 of the 7 to focus on just so I'm not overwhelming the reader by jumping between all 7.

One of the 2 is battling stage 4 cancer (I'll call him "A"; I don't have names yet). His memories of his life and time with the other 6 become mixed with dreams and delirium induced by his medications. It's not until he believes he witnesses one of his friends committing suicide that he realizes what's happening and comes to terms with the reality of dealing with his confused memories and short-term memory loss.

The second of the 2 is the youngest of the group (I'll call him B). He's seeing the reality that the other 6 are dealing with; each is greatly affected by the condition of A and handling it in different ways, none that are good. As A's condition worsens, each of the other 6 also seem to be losing to their own individual battles/situations in life. The low point coincides with A's dream about his one friend's suicide; in reality that friend gets into a fight with his abusive father and nearly kills him - until it can be established that he acted in self-defense, he's in jail.

From there, its about A discovering how much his 6 friends are struggling, and his desire to be there for them and help them gets him through his own battle with cancer and medications. For the other 6 (narrated by or told via B), they must either find a way to pull themselves and each other out of the destructive paths their headed down, or lose everything.

I want to write it so that the readers aren't aware or informed of As condition at first, and so it's not until A and B's stories or telling of events begin to contradict each other that they realize something is off. The way I have it in my mind now, readers might assume A has actually already died, or perhaps that the other 6 all have, and or that B has;
but in the end I want it to be clear what was reality and what wasn't. I plan to incorporate elements that can serve as tips or clues to the reader so that they can piece together whats happening.

Writing this out now it all seems quite dark and depressing, but I don't intend for the overall tone to be that way despite how it sounds, and the key to that lies with the personalities of the 7 friends and the dynamics between them.

Anyway, the feelings and themes and ideas for this story have been in my mind awhile now, and I'd like to see if they can come together on paper. Would you say I have enough to go forward in plotting with, or do I need to flesh out a more strong and defined story goal?

Also: I am hoping that along with wanting to see what happens to these 7 friends, that readers will also be intrigued by the actual story telling and want to find out what's really going on - which they'd have to stay until the end for. Any tips or advice on how to find that balance between creating a sense of intrigue without being too confusing or ambiguous?

Thanks again, and I hope this made enough sense for you to get through :)

Answer: There are different types of story goals, for different types of stories.

Some stories have one external goal (e.g. find the treasure, overthrow the king) that all the characters are involved with or affected by, whether they are working towards the goal or against it.

In other stories, all the characters may share a common goal or concern, but it may be slightly different for each person. For example, in a romance, all the characters may want to find love or overcome their anxiety about commitment, but that doesn't mean they all want to marry the same person.

Another example: the Richard Linkater film Slacker is about a community of overeducated, underemployed people struggling to find meaning in their seemingly aimless lives -- which they all do in different ways.

I think you may need to do something similar here: decide on a common goal for these characters, which they will each pursue in their own way. For each character, success may look completely different.

Create a dramatic arc for each of the key characters, so the reader can see what creates their need, how they pursue it, a crisis where they have to make a crucial choice, and an outcome. (It's fine if some characters fail in their effort, and if some of the stories are more developed than others.)

Your decision to tell the story non-chronologically and non-linearly by using the perspective of the character who is dying is a sound strategy for creating mystery, in that the reader may enter a story in the middle and stick around to find out what came before, and what is going on, as well as how it will end.

Best of luck.

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Feb 24, 2017
by: Kacey

Wow, thank you for the quick response!

I have another question regarding an impact character/antagonist. Since this is a story where multiple characters are pursuing a common goal in their own way, it seems like each has his own IC - whether one of the other friends, or perhaps a relative or other side character. Or should there be one "main" IC and antagonist for the story as a whole?

I've found the Dramatica Act Structure chart on your website and am trying to use that. I'm just trying to figure out who my MC and IC is.

Feb 25, 2017
to Kasey
by: Glen

Every point-of-view character is essentially the hero of his/her own story, though not every POV character's story needs to be fully developed.

In an ensemble piece, you certainly could give each POV character their own impact character.

You could also choose to develop one of these POV characters more than others -- elevating them to be the "main, main character." It's not just a question of how much space is devoted to their story, but also whether theirs is the decisive choice at the crisis that determines the outcome. There's no rule about this. It's your choice.

As for the antagonist role, an impact character can be the antagonist, but remember that the role of antagonist refers to the overall story, not the subjective throughlines, so you wouldn't have more than one antagonist, but you could have an impact character for each POV character.

Remember that sometimes an antagonist can be non-human or corporate, as in Nature, the world, society, etc.

Feb 27, 2017
thanks again
by: Anonymous

I've always loved reading, but never learned much about the actual process that goes into writing books. Now that I'm trying to write my own I'm not sure what "rules" there are to follow. Your clarification on the antagonist and impact character(s) helps a lot, thank you Glen!

(and I believe I re-sent my question about antagonists-ICs twice, thinking it didn't go through - sorry about that)

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