Problems with a goal that becomes another goal by the middle...

by claudia

Hi. I´m having major problems with my novel outline. Hope you can help. My story starts out with a goal that the villain has imposed on the MC--he must find a treasure or else(?). But this goal is just a sort of inciting incident or a mcGuffin because by the middle of the story, the MC discovers his own personal goal to follow--to discover the mystery behind a haunting. So, first question--is this too weird or is it a possible situation?

Second: Once the MC starts pursuing his goal, would it be logical that the Villain also began pursuing this same goal if it were of greater value than the original one?

And most importantly, how would you plot this?

Answer: It's not weird at all. It's actually a pretty good idea for a plot.

I suspect this is giving you trouble because your real Story Goal is something bigger than the problems you are looking at. Most likely, it is not just about treasure or the haunting but about resolving an essential imbalance in your story world that is driving your characters to act in certain ways. Something has put the main character out of step with his environment, and he is driven to resolve it. (Without this drive, he might not be interested in the discovering the truth behind the haunting.)

Going down one level from that overreaching Story Goal, you can talk about the more immediate problem.

At this level, you will often find that characters don't see the real problem at first. The main character may see an apparent problem or goal and will try to deal with it. Later however, the main character may perceive the real problem and may (or may not) find a real solution to it.

Dramatica theory uses four terms to describe this:

Symptom: what the characters perceive to be the problem
Response: how the characters try to deal with the symptom
Problem: the real problem that underlies the symptom
Solution: the real solution that will resolve the problem

So, in the story you describe, it sounds as though the need for treasure (the "or else") is the symptom, and the quest to obtain the treasure is the response.

However, the real problem, as the main character discovers, is the haunting - which is preventing the villain from getting the treasure himself. The real solution is that which will put a stop to the haunting (perhaps having the MC discover a truth about
the past?).

Now, I'm guessing you want your villain to be the antagonist who tries to prevent the big Story Goal from being achieved. Perhaps he has a vested interest in keeping the world the way it is? The imbalance may benefit him.

In this scenario, the solution (discovering the truth) would harm the villain's interests. It might bring about the achievement of the Story Goal.

The question I have is, does the villain know about the real problem all along, but just doesn't say?

In other words, does the villain know about the ghost and does he get the main character to recover the treasure as a way of attempting to avoid the real solution - the truth coming out - because that would allow the Story Goal to be achieved?

It could also be that the villain doesn't know the truth in the beginning, but somehow gets a inkling of what might be behind the haunting and that it is something that would resolve the imbalance in the world (bring about the Story Goal) to his disadvantage. That would be why he becomes concerned about it.

Or, to say it differently again, is the truth something that would end the villain's power or put a stop to his quest for power if it were in the hands of the main character?

As for how to plot this, there are a couple of approaches.

A simple way, when you're starting to write an outline, is to assign each of these four elements to an act. One possibility is to make Act 1 about the symptom (the villain's demand), Act 2 about the response (the treasure quest), Act 3 about the discovery of the real problem (the haunting), and act 4 about the solution (revealing the truth).

Eventually, you are better off to make each of these four elements present in each act, so that the first three acts show villain pushing the MC to pursue the treasure, but along the way clues pop up about the real problem and solution - hauntings occur, facts are discovered that have a bearing on the mystery.

At the climax, the treasure may be found. But by that point, the main character has also acquired enough evidence or awareness of the real problem (the haunting) to choose the real solution (discovering the truth), and that brings about a change in the world (the Story Goal).

(This is assuming you want a happy ending.)

Hope that helps.

Comments for Problems with a goal that becomes another goal by the middle...

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You read my mind!
by: C

Wow! I almost flipped in my chair reading your answer. It´s as if you were reading my mind! Or my half written plot! That is exactly what I´m trying to make happen but i was having a hard time trying to spread them out into a coherent plot. Your idea about separating them into 4 is excellent! I´m certainly going to try that road. And by the way, yes--there is an underlying need or reason to solve this--the fact that the MCs mother died and he is searching for someone to call family.

Thank you for this--your answer was quick and exactly what I needed! I can´t thank you enough. I feel like all I needed was a pat on the back and someone to greenlight my crazy idea--and you did just that!
Thanks again!

by: Anonymous

Just a quick note to say that I was reading over this again, and new ideas came to me. The plot/s are finally taking for and they are moving in the right direction. I re-read your question about the villain and i´ve decided that yes, the villan has an inkling as to what is really going on and how this would bring down their plans. The treasure is the way in, but they really want to find a certain person they believe ( rightfully so) his hiding in the house, protected by the ghosts. I can´t thank you enough!

by: Glen

Glad to be of help. Best of luck with your story.

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