Story Goal Problems

by Mary Mack
(Watkins Glen, NY)

Hi, I have an idea for a novel, one I've already written as a short story. But now that I'm thinking I'd like (love, really) to expand on it I'm having trouble determining who should be the MC and what their goal is. Here it is in a nutshell:

The story begins with a 53-year-old woman recalling a very traumatic childhood event: at the age of 12 she witnessed her best friend at the time--a 12-yr-old boy--shoot and kill his abusive stepfather after a heated argument takes place in their home that the girl also witnesses.

As the story unfolds, we learn that after the murder occurs the girl is in shock (rightly so) and instead of just running home, she is easily convinced by the boy's mother to stay and help them clean up the mess including the disposal of the body.

When the next morning finally arrives, she runs home and tries to forget all about what happened to her but, of course, she can't. There never is an investigation because the stepfather was a drifter with no family and no one in town really liked him anyway. Basically, no one cares enough to report his disappearance to the police. The following fall, the boy and his mother move away and the girl never sees or hears from them again. However, even after they are gone from her life, forever, she fails to tell anyone about what happened to her.

Where we find her, 41 years after the event, she is still trying to come to terms with what happened (and her involvement) that has ultimately prevented her from living her life to the fullest. i.e., she still lives in the same house she grew up in with her now elderly parents, she's never married, doesn't have a career, etc.

Here are are my questions:

1. Who is the protagonist? The woman (as a girl?) or the boy?
2. Once that is determined, what is the story goal?

I'm so stuck! I hope I've explained this well enough for you to offer some suggestions or advice.

By the way, I love, love, love your website! It has helped me so much with other projects but, unfortunately, the one I describe above is the one I'm most passionate about writing.

Thank you!

Answer: Thanks for the kind comments. Here's my take on your story, as it stands so far...

(Actually, you've answered your own questions, probably without realizing it.)

1. The woman is clearly the main character, since we are looking at the events of the past through her eyes. Moreover, you've stated that...

2. The story goal is to "come to terms with what happened." Since the woman is the character who is making the effort to achieve this goal, she is the protagonist.

Of course, you could do a story about
how the boy deals with his abusive stepfather, in which he is the protagonist, but that would be a different story. In that version, the stepfather's death would be the climax.

However, it sounds to me as though the story you describe is about how the woman comes to terms with the past. In that scenario, the stepfather's death is the initial driver that disrupts the story world and the achievement of understanding will be the final driver that restores balance to the world.

Incidentally, if you were using the Dramatica software, this is how I would set up the four concerns in the story...

Main character throughline: I would give the woman a Concern of Memory.
I.e. she is concerned with her disturbing memories of what she witnessed as a child and how to find inner peace regarding them. (Maybe she repressed the memories for a time and now they have returned, or maybe she has started to doubt her own memories and wants confirmation of what really happened.)

Overall story throughline: Understanding
I see a story in which she investigates the events, perhaps digs up the past, talks to other survivors, etc. in an attempt to derive meaning or discover the truth about the murder. The world can be at peace only when the events of the past are truly understood.

Impact character throughline: The Past
I can easily imagine you making the boy the impact character who perhaps wants to keep the past buried or to preserve his own beliefs about what happened. He might be upset about the woman's attempt to stir it all up again and perhaps re-evaluate it. He might try to talk her out of it.

Alternatively, you might make someone else (perhaps the mother) the impact character, who perhaps guards some truths about the events of the past that have been hidden from both the boy and the woman. (Perhaps something about the events doesn't quite make sense, and that's why the woman is compelled to investigate.) Or you could create another character (the one the reader would least suspect) to be the IC and the real villain.

Relationship throughline: Developing a Plan
Whether the boy or someone else is the impact character, the relationship between the IC and the woman would revolve around them figuring out how they will cope with the aftermath of the events. For instance, they may at different times choose to put the blame on someone else, pretend to be innocent victims, ignore what happened, seek justice, etc.

If you were writing Suspense, I could imagine a scenario in which the IC tries to kill the woman at the climax in an attempt to stop her from discovering some buried truth.

But, naturally, you have to decide what genre you're writing in and how dark you want to make the story.

Best of luck.

Comments for Story Goal Problems

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Thank you
by: Mary Mack

Thanks, Glen. You've given me so much to think about! By the way, I'm not using the Dramatica software...I've been trying to sculpt the story on my own using this website as my guide. I'm probably just being stubborn or too prideful. I have this idea in my head that the completed novel would be more noteworthy if I struggle through it without the use of a fancy software system. But that's just me being old fashioned I guess. Time will tell what I decide.

Thanks again, you totally rock!

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