Story goal

by Carole

Question: I have written a historical novel, set in the late 19th/early 20th century about a woman's journey from teenage girl to old age. I may decide to split it into 2 or 3 books. My problem is defining the story goal. I have tried using Vogler's Hero's Journey as a template. It really is about enduring adversity and coming out on top but I can't state the story goal. It is a series of ups and downs requiring great courage and perseverance.

Answer: There are many types of possible story goal. Vogler envisioned a goal of obtaining (whether treasure, wisdom, etc.), but Dramatica describes many other types of problems such as...

Giving up part of oneself to become something else
Changing or resolving a situation.
Playing a role
Creating a different future.
Changing direction.
Remembering or being remembered.
Overcoming desire.
Achieving understanding.
Learning to think about things differently.
Coming up with an idea or plan
Finding out something.

What you have to ask yourself is if there is a particular concern or type of problem that plagues your heroine throughout her life and whether she is able to overcome it.

Another approach is to ask whether you have a happy ending. Do things end up better or worse for the story world? Does she end up happier? If so, she has likely resolved the issue that drives her throughout her life, and that issue will point to the story goal.

If she ends up unhappy, then it is likely the Consequence came about and the goal will be what didn't happen - the thing that would have made her happy in the end.

Hope that helps.

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Of course!
by: Carole

A light just went on in my head! Why hadn't I realised that Vogler gives only one goal? It seems so obvious now that you have pointed it out.

Western novel
by: Anonymous

I'm working on a traditional western novel. I have the title, setting and a list of characters. Right now, I haven't decided which ones will be main and minor characters. I do have an idea (based on the title) where I want to go with the story. Any suggestions????

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Does my protagonist's story goal have to involve other characters in some way?

Question: Okay, I have this story where my protagonist's story goal is to reconnect with his brother. The protagonist's brother has grown detached with him over the years because he's mad at him. He's mad at him because the protagonist had it easy every since they grew up together, while the protagonist's brother had it hard. The protagonist and his brother now are older and live together. The protagonist's brother has a mate (because this is a story behind a wolf's eyes) and pups to take care of. Eventually, the protagonist leaves because he wants to better himself to show his brother that he can help him. He finds this girl, then later her father, and becomes interested in her. The protagonist wants to be with the girl but has to win over her father first then her, all while facing other obstacles for himself.

My question is, does my protagonist's story goal have to involve the other characters (the girl and her father, the pups, his brother's mate.)in some way? I remember in the article of choosing a story goal, that to state in what way the protagonist's story goal affects the other characters in the novel. I understand choosing a story goal just not quite the second step.

Answer: The Story Goal is by definition a goal that affects or involves the majority of characters or the story world as a whole, as opposed to the main character's personal concern.

In your story, you have a world that has been wounded by the damaged relationship between the two brothers. The resolution of this rift will certainly affect the other members of their family or potential family. Assuming the protagonist is the main character, his inner conflict may be about what approach he should take to handle this problem, and his decision whether or not to change will determine if he succeeds in reconciling with his brother.

As for the other characters, you have to ask why they are in the story at all. Generally, your characters are there to represent various emotional drives concerning the Goal, or various opinions/attitudes concerning the Goal. If they are totally uninvolved, they have no purpose.

For instance, you might ask yourself what role the protagonist's girl plays in the story. Is she supportive of the reconciliation? Is she a distraction that lets the hero put off seeing his brother? Can she make a rational argument for or against? Does she have feelings about the reconciliation?

What about her father? Will he counsel the hero to reconcile (conscience) or is he against it for some selfish reason (avoid)?

Or can these characters provide examples from their own experience of what can happen when you try to heal a rift?

In other words, by surrounding the hero with different ideas, approaches, attitudes, distractions, desires, etc. you force him to weigh up the pros and cons of the effort and come to a decision which will ultimately turn out to be the best (or perhaps the worst) choice.

Assuming the rift is a genuine problem (there are exceptions), the world will either be healed in the end or a worse fate will result (the Consequence).

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Story goal

by Antoinette
(United states)

Question: Hello again it's me Antoinette and I changed my story a little bit. I have a question to ask, is it okay if your character doesn't know the main goal or whatever he/she is supposed to accomplish until they know about? for example; Lucy doesn't know she is a princess in the story yet until she finds out herself and learns that the evil queen is trying to kill/sabotage her. And that's when the story goal starts happening. So, I'm stuck now, Lucy finally arrives at the castle but I don't know what the Queen should do. yes, she is evil and wants to sabotage I know that. I also want to introduce another character who is going to try and kill Lucy (doesn't know that) because the Queen is threatening to kill her brother if she doesn't do it. you could say I'm stuck at the part where I want to start the rising action.

Answer: It's important that the story goal appear in the story, and that the reader appreciates it, but where the goal appears is up to you. In some stories the goal only appears later on.

Sometimes characters pursue the right goal for the wrong reason (or for a different reason), only to realize later how important it is to everyone that they succeed.

Also, the main character is not always the protagonist. For instance, in "Romeo and Juliet," Romeo is the main character but the protagonist (the one pursuing the story goal) is Friar Lawrence, who get the idea that marrying Romeo and Juliet could end the feud between the families.

So it matters that someone realizes the need for the evil Queen to be replaced with a better one and takes up that goal, but it may not necessarily be the new Queen. Someone else could push for that goal to happen, perhaps persuade Lucy at some point that she needs to step up to the plate.

Best of luck.

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Trouble with story goal

by Brittnee

Question: I am having a lot of trouble with finding my story goal. There seem to be several!

1) The story takes place in both the real world and a "dream world" that a pair of friends discover they can go to together in their sleep. They discover that the dream world is causing issues in the real world, and must figure out a way to stop it or they can never go back.

2) in the end, the main characters friend ends up trapped there, and she and a love interest must try to free her.

3) It is a "coming of age" tale about college students trying to decipher what they want out of life and how to get it, the dream world where they can have anything or do anything being a contrast to reality, where they feel lost and aren't sure what to do.

From this, I see four possible story goals:

1) stop the affects of the dream world on reality so they can continue going to dream world
2) free the friend
3) figure out what they want out of life
4) realize that they don't need the dream world because it isn't "real" and re-focus on their real lives

Everything that happens seems to be a result of them trying to figure out what they want out of life, or an effort toward trying to avoid doing so. So, that's the goal I tend toward, but I'm not really sure that it's a goal that makes sense.

Help please!

Answer: First a couple of points.

1) A general bit of advice is to look at the Consequence. What would an unhappy ending to this story involve? What happens if they fail? The goal will be the opposite.

2) You didn't specify how the dream world is affecting the real world. What Consequence is it threatening to create? If you know, see #1.

Of your four suggestions, the first is problematic because if their involvement in the dream world persists then what have they learned? It's no longer a coming-of-age story. Staying in Narnia sounds great to a child, but there's a real adult life waiting.

A combination of 3 and 4 sounds more promising. If the dream world is distracting them from something important they must do in the real world by giving them an easy excuse to avoid it, then the dream world functions like a Contagonist character (delaying their pursuit of a long-term, big picture goal by tempting them with short-term pleasure).

So it's sounding to me like the goal is for the main character to help her friend realize that she needs to face the real world, because there is something even better in it for her (love perhaps?). In the course of pursuing this goal, the MC may find it too.

Please bear in mind this is just a suggestion. Only you can discover the right answer for your story. I'm just exploring ways to think about it.

Hope that helps.

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Finding the story goal second follow up

by Suzanne A

So I've looked at the advice you've given me so far and the website and think maybe i have a very rough version of a plot outline. I'm not sure if the goal is specific enough but am hoping it will be enough to work with. I may still be a little fuzzy about the goal but here's what i came up with:

Jane is a young coulda-been painter who works as a bartender to pay her bills. After her sister and mother left when she was in her last year of high school, she become a caretaker for her alcoholic father (forewarning). Fearing she had the potential to behave impulsively, like everyone else in her family, she has worked at trying to control everything/everyone around her(consequence). Her artistic impulses have suffered in the process, her paintings have become pretty but bland (consequence). When her older sister (impact character) returns unexpectedly, she begins the process of trying to loosen up her control and stop living under the shadow of other people’s mistakes (goal) by becoming more spontaneous, letting loose a little at some local clubs (prerequisites) and confessing her feelings to a coworker (requirement) who becomes distant afterwards (cost). Her sister finds some of Jane's old paintings in the basement and her rave reviews spur Jane to start painting in a different way (dividend). Her sister pushes her to “be honest with herself about her childhood.” (precondition). Finally she confesses to her recently sober father her new (true?) feelings about her childhood (requirement) which she had previously downplayed. When she can’t find him the next day, she worries that he has started drinking again and that she is the cause (forewarning). When another bartender suffers a serious accident related to his drinking (forewarning), Jane realizes she can never fully give in to her impulses and forget about the lessons learned from the mistakes of others (Tragedy). Instead of employing "tough love" techniques that aren't natural for her, she decides to try to be supportive and caring, instead of making futile attempts to control others behaviour (doesn't achieve goal but gives up a bad habit and takes on a new good one- Tragi-comedy). Her new paintings are a big hit (Tragi-comedy).

Does this seem complete enough? Is it a reasonable argument for a story? The funny thing is that I wrote an opening scene that people really liked. The main character was walking to work in a rainstorm and her umbrella gets battered by the wind and finally blows out of her hand. She ends up at work soaking wet. It was something that had happened to me and got me to wearing raincoats instead of carrying umbrellas but in the context of the story I guess it shows her battling against an unbeatable force, the weather, so maybe my answer lay in that opening sequence?

Thanks for all your input and advice so far. I am very intrigued by the whole Dramatica Theory and bit by bit I think i am understanding and appreciating how it can help me.

Response: I think you've done a lot of great development work. I would ask is whether the consequence is steep enough. A tragedy implies that the consequence is what results, rather than the goal. But if her paintings are a hit... what has she failed at? Or is the co-worker's accident something your heroine is responsible for - a result of her giving in to an impulse she later regrets?

It's a stronger story when the heroine's choice has big consequences. In the case of a tragedy, the consequences are negative.

Also... and you may hate me for saying this in light of my earlier suggestions, but... it now seems to me, from your description, that the heroine's choice whether to stay controlled or loosen up is her inner conflict. The choice she makes between the two should determine the outcome ... but what is the goal? To keep her co-worker safe? To keep her father from leaving? To keep the bar solvent?

Tragi-comedy (if that's the ending that feels right to you) implies that she must fail, but that failure inadvertently brings her to a place of inner peace (which could be her artistic success). But the failure should be there.

As always, just take this as a thought, not a dictate.

P.S. Whenever you reach a point in your planning that you feel the urge to start writing, do so. But after you have worked out the 8 plot elements, if you want to go further in your plotting, the next step is the signposts ...

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your goal isn't specific enough
by: Wayne

What if in a tough love moment, she tells off her drunk dad? And then later, when she feels bad and goes to apologize, she can't find him. Now she's got a problem. Dad is missing and it looks like her fault. How does she find him? Maybe in addition to the usual detective stuff, tracing whereabouts, old friends, going to cops, calling drunk tanks, with her sister tagging along ragging her, she is a part-time bartender and brings it up with each patron. This forces her to be less self-centered and maybe her paintings improve. To relax, she paints up the stories the bar patrons tell her. And that subject matter is good for her. Then the father finally shows up. He was off straightening out his life. So her main problem is solved. And her professional life is better too.

At least that's a specific goal. And you know when the story is over.

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How late is too late when it comes to your Story Goal?

by Luna

Question: Hi! I love your website and it's really helped me! I was wondering about my Story Goal. I have a prelude that sort of keys the reader into what's going to happen, but I don't really introduce the goal until many more events occur. Is this okay? Can I can do that? Or should I rewrite so that the Story Goal is introduced earlier? Thanks for the advice!

Answer: On the one hand, it doesn't matter where the Story Goal is introduced, as long as it is made apparent somewhere, so that the reader at some point understands what's happening, what the point of all the characters' efforts is.

On the other hand, it probably makes sense to consider the effect it has when you delay revealing the goal. Generally, it creates an atmosphere of mystery, where nothing quite makes sense at first and the reader is waiting to find out what's going on. If that's the effect you're going for, no problem.

However, if you're not trying to create that atmosphere of mystery, then you may find it works to introduce the Story Goal earlier, and even to bring it up several times throughout the story (rule of thumb is once per act).

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This helps me too!
by: Claudia

I had been wondering this myself, so I´m glad that someone asked...and I really loved the answer. it´s great that someone as experienced and knowledgable as yourself is actually giving us writers permission to be and to break the stupid rules imposed by so many writing groups. Thanks again!

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story goal

Hi, I am sorting my story and the characters. But I have a little problem. My novel is going to be about a few protagonists with a separate lives from others but every one of them is going to change story of others with their goals. Now, isn't it bad that there are actually more goals than one because of more characters?

Answer: What would help unify your story is if each of the character's goals could be seen as aspects of one overall goal.

To take an obvious example, consider the film Love, Actually. This film consists of many separate stories about a group of characters who are connected to each other very marginally. They live in the same city, and some of them know each other, but that's it.

All of them are pursuing love, but in many different ways. Many types of love are explored: romantic, familial, friendship, love triangles, unrequited love etc. But love is the story goal that connects all these characters.

Or consider the film Casablanca. In that film, most of the characters are trying to escape Casablanca because that represents freedom. They are trying to get the right papers, money, contacts, favours etc. that will let them leave. However, the main character, Richard, isn't trapped by any of these. He's trapped by unresolved emotions regarding the woman who jilted him years ago. So his problem seems quite different, yet it is still an aspect of the overall story goal, which is freedom.

For that matter, even the villain in the story, the Nazi Major, is seeking freedom, though in his case it is the freedom for his soldiers to march into every city in the world as conquerors.

If you don't have an overall story goal that unites your characters, you run the risk that your book will seem to have no point. Readers may shake their heads wondering what it's all about.

But link these characters thematically with a overall story goal, even if it is not stated, and readers will see how all the different sub-goals fit together.

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Trouble with story goal 2

by Brittnee

Thank you so much for your advice! You've really kick started my creative process :)

The dream world is affecting the real world in a few ways. It's distracting the main character and her friend from their real-life studies and relationships, it is wearing on their physical bodies because they are not able to sleep properly or "recharge" their minds when spending all their nights in the dream, and are therefore experiencing mental distress and exhaustion, and they begin to experience confusion as to what is real and what isn't. The friend becomes obsessed and developes an addiction to sleeping pills so that she can spend more time in the perfect dream world.

The dream world definitely functions as a contagionist character. The distraction it presents is distracting the main character from achieving her goal, which is to feel more secure about her future and figure out what she wants to do with it. The friend is unconciously using it to keep from having to deal with emotional trama from her past. And it's thwarting their mutual goal of succeeding in their studies.

This will have a sequel, or possibly become a trilogy, because the ending is left unresolved. The friend is trapped in dream world, so the main character and love interest must save her. But when they find her, it turns out that the friend also has feelings for the love interest, and upon discovering the relationship between them, and in light of her recent personal disaster and troubled past, she decides to stay in dream world indefinitely.

In essence, she chooses not to deal with her reality, while the main character chooses her real world relationship and life. There is no convincing the friend to leave, so the main character and love interest head back to reality to live their lives and find a way to convince the friend to live hers.

I think I agree with your conclusion about the goal, but at the end of this story, it is left unaccomplished.

With this added information, would you still say the goal is to convince the friend that her real life is worth living?

Answer: You have to decide this for yourself. However, it may be that the goal is for the main character to become more engaged in the real world. I'm thinking here that the friend is the impact character, and the main character may be tempted to follow her example and join her in the dream world but ultimately chooses to remain in reality.

In Dramatica terms, this would be a goal of Present Situation - that is, she must ultimately choose where she wants to live here and now. The Consequence would be Contemplation (or Mal-Contemplation) - that is, an inability to correctly weigh up the consequences of remaining in the dream world and thus to become trapped in a destructive illusion.

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Misleading story goal?

by Colin
(London UK)

Question: At the start of my story, my main character is an apathetic delinquent with little interest in anything. He's only spurred into action by a curse that will kill him if he doesn't break it. Initially I had planned to have him achieve that goal mid story, only to realize what breaking the curse cost (i.e. people and things he's started to care about), and for the new goal to be righting his wrongs. However, seeing as my main character 13 years earlier was a young prince who destroyed his family which destabilized a nation, I'm beginning to think the main goal is redemption all along. It's assumed that someone else was responsible and that the prince died along with his family. Is setting up breaking the curse as the story goal misleading the reader? How can I foreshadow the real goal without revealing too much about his past until later in the story?

Answer: I'm a little unclear when the curse was placed. If the curse was placed 13 years ago and in response the young prince murders his family, in order to save his own life, you have a problem with the morality of the story. How do you make your main character someone the reader will empathize with if he has killed his family for selfish reasons? Or if he only acts for selfish reasons?

Even if he manages to do something heroic, like help another hero save the nation, natural justice suggests he will have to give up his life as punishment for his crime.

On the other hand, if the death of the royal family is caused by someone else (even if the prince thinks he caused it), that's a story that could work.

The family's death that destabilized the nation would be the initial driver (or inciting incident). The injustice in the story world would need to be rectified in order for the world to come back into harmony. So the story goal might be to have the prince become the new king, after defeating whoever caused the death of his family and made the prince think he did it, thus restoring order to the kingdom.

The Prince, having become an apathetic delinquent because of the guilt he carries, would be inspired at the second driver (or turning point) to take up the cause of breaking the curse. In the process, he would learn the truth about his family's destruction, which would then lead him to confront the real villain.

In other words, this would be a story like The Lion King, in which the banished Simba must retake the throne from the villainous uncle who caused his father's death and made Simba feel responsible.

On the other hand, if you want your prince to really have killed his family to save himself, then he becomes more of a Darth Vader character -- someone who betrays his friends for selfish reasons and causes the downfall of the Republic. Of course, Darth Vader is not the main character. Luke is the main character and the real hero who gives Darth Vader an opportunity to redeem himself. But Darth still has to pay the price for his earlier betrayal. So he redeems himself by sacrificing his own life to help Luke defeat the Emperor.

In other words, if you make your prince the villain, you might need a different character to be the protagonist -- the person who will ultimately be placed on the throne. Also, you may have a challenge to get the reader to empathize with the prince.

It can be done, of course. Guilt is a common human experience which readers can relate to. But you may have some work to explain why the young prince would have betrayed his family (without making him a psychopath). We may need to see that the prince is remorseful, and that he purposely chooses a path that leads to his redemption.

(Just to be clear, the story goal either way would be the restoration of the kingdom by placing a good king on the throne. The prince would have in addition a personal goal to resolve his guilt over the death of his family in a way more satisfying way than a life of self-punishment and ignominy.)

Best of luck.

P.S. Re: foreshadowing the real goal.

At some point (not in a prologue necessarily), you may want to flash back to show why the prince carries the guilt over his family's death. Perhaps we see someone who seems to be a friend persuading him that he killed his family or that he should kill his family and the prince accepting that as the truth. You will omit some of the decisions or actions of the real villain to create a little mystery. Perhaps include some clues along with red herrings so that you can, at the crisis, reveal what was really going on.

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Thanks for replying
by: Colin

Sorry I didn't really explain it well. The prince is bullied and abused by his father (in an attempt to make him a strong leader) and he's coerced by his nurse into murdering him. The nurse turns out to be a powerful witch and murders everyone else while the prince realizes what he's done. He escapes with his mortally wounded older sister, who soon dies, while the witch becomes the new queen. It's later as an adult that the prince is cursed as part of a contract he agrees to without reading the fine print. To break the curse he has to fulfill his contract, which seemed simple but leads to him inadvertently helping the queen with even bigger evil plans.

I might need to simplify a few things...

by: Glen

Okay, so it's still the same problem. The story goal is to put a good monarch on the throne. (You will want to show how the kingdom is suffering.) The prince's inner conflict is whether/how to stand up to those who have taken advantage of him (first his father, now the witch).

You might need an impact character who can help him (by example) to see that he doesn't need to carry the guilt over his father's death, and that he can be the agent of a better destiny.

The challenge is to have the witch appear benevolent to the naive prince (if not the reader), until he can look back and reinterpret events to see that she was manipulating him all along. It's okay if the reader is one step ahead of the prince on figuring this out.

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Story goal

Question: In my story a character is given an antique mirror from her father. On the night of her birthday when she is asleep, she hears a voice telling to her wake up. No one is there but, the voice keeps telling her to walk to the mirror that everything she wants is on the other side. She touches it and is transported to an alternate reality. She feels lost and unhappy in her life believing she can’t do anything about it. What could the story goal be for this character? This does affect other characters because in her normal reality everyone assumes she’s missing. Not sure how it could affect the characters in the different reality.

Also another question, I am a young writer and it seems that often I have many ideas, but I always have trouble actually getting it on paper. I get bogged down by planning but when I don’t plan my idea it makes no sense and I become directionless. Do you have advice for this?

Answer: What you have at this point sounds like the typical start of a monomyth fantasy story. The main character is called to go beyond the boundary of her everyday world and have an adventure in some unknown land.

The one question you may have to answer, because it may be key to everything, is ... Does the father know the mirror is magic, and if so why did he give it to her?

As for what could the story goal be, obviously only you can decide. But typical goals in this type of story include ...

1. Obtaining something. For example, finding a treasure or rescuing someone who is trapped in the other world (perhaps her father). Sometimes (e.g. Lord of the Rings) it can be preventing a villain from obtaining something.

2. Doing something. For example, defeating a villain or some other threat that may ultimately endanger the real world.

3. Learning the truth. Sometimes there is a mystery in the main character's life. In the course of the journey, she may discover the secret behind the mystery that will make sense of her life. (Maybe that's why her father gave her the mirror.)

4. Understanding. There are also stories where a character goes to a strange new world which seems delightful at first. Gradually, the main character comes to understand that this world or someone in it is actually quite sinister. The last part of the book is often about the character's escape back to the real world once she realizes the truth (e.g. Coraline). There may be another lesson the main character learns on the adventure, which not only helps her escape but in the end helps her in the real world.

I would suggest you look at this article...

... which tell you the basic parts of a monomyth story. It may help you outline your story.

Also this article...

... discusses some of the basic types of plots. Pay particular attention to these three:

Overcoming the Monster
The Quest
Voyage and Return

As for your second question... I'm a big believer in planning, but not to the point that it becomes an end in itself. The point of an outline is to help you not get stuck.

What I recommend is that you alternate between planning and writing. When you first get an idea that inspires you, write until you get stuck. Then plan until the story becomes clear and you get excited about it again. Then go back to writing.

Also, if you are getting bogged down in planning, switch to doing some writing. In the course of writing, sometimes the answer to your planning problem will appear all on its own.

Just keep switching back and forth as needed, according to whatever helps you stay interested in the story. Don't spend too much time in a stuck place.

Best of luck.

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Story goal for a paranormal Romance

by Adrienne
(Spokane, WA)

Question: I don't know how to word this best but here is a try. I have an idea of what is going to happen in the story that I am writing but I don't really know how to translate that into a story goal. I have been told by others (mostly my sister who also writes) that my stories lack plot and I agree. It is by far the most difficult thing for me. So I guess I need more examples or something of Story Goal because while I understand (at least I think I do) the idea of a story goal figuring out one seems much more difficult.

My story is a story about two roommates who end up being targeted and turned into vampires by a controlling jerkwad who has literal mind control powers and their attempts to escape him and find some semblance of normal after their transformation and trauma. But that seems almost more a theme than a story goal and I don't know if I am just being thick headed (a thing that happens a lot with me) or if I am genuinely stumped. See the problem is that that goal seems really to only involve the three of them and that my various other characters don't really have a stake in that directly. They have other reasons to be involved: hating the villain, wanting to preserve their own way of life, preventing a breech of the "Masquerade" (to borrow for WoD) and I don't really know how to wrap all of this together. And further still my attempts to just wing it have proven lack luster in so far as they always run out of steam well before the story feels complete.

Answer: It seems to me you have two possible stories:

a) a horror story about the vampire attacking these two roommates

b) the story of their recovery from the trauma of their transformation

Assuming it is the second (a little like the Jessica Jones Netflix series), it may be that you just need to flesh it out the overall story a little.

So, let's assume your main character wants to obtain a normal life--whatever that means for her. (Maybe she didn't have one before she was transformed?) The vampire transformation is the initial driver that creates a threat (making her goal harder to achieve).

The second driver (end of act one) will be an event that offers her a new opportunity to find that life. Perhaps she can connect with others who want the same, but perhaps for different reasons? This is where your other characters can come in. Maybe they are all wanting a more normal life (whatever that means to them individually).

So the goal will be the normal life (friends? family? community? safety?). You choose what that would look like for your characters. The consequence would be the opposite of that.

I don't know if you use the Dramatica software, but if your main character's biggest internal concern is her desire for closure (recovery from the trauma), that would suggest that the impact character has an internal concern with being open to new possible futures. For instance, if you want your vampire to be both the villain and the impact character, the vampire may be concerned with finding a new possibility for his future (perhaps he wants a power base, a better food supply, etc.)

Dramatica would then suggest two possible types of story goal/consequence.

1. Obtaining
2. Changing one's nature

For instance, if the characters are all seeking a safer life or a supportive community (goal of Obtaining), the consequence if they fail might be everyone losing their humanity by becoming vampires (Changing one's nature).

Or, if the goal is for everyone to give up their past personal traumas (goal of Changing one's nature) and become better people, the consequence if they fail might be that the vampire takes away their community (Obtaining).

This is where you bring in your other characters and give them a common concern or goal and a consequence (threat) to be avoided. The more specific you can make these, the easier it will be to plot.

Next, try to figure out...

Requirements: What things must the characters achieve if they are to succeed in their goal? Whenever a requirement is met, the reader will see that they are making progress.

Forewarnings: What might happen to suggest that the consequence is getting closer? When forewarnings appear, they make the reader fear that the characters will fail.

These first four elements (goal, consequence, requirements, and forewarnings) are essential to a plot.

You can further develop your overall plot using the rest of the 8 Elements ...

Or by using the W-Plot model...

This overall plot will be happening at the same time as your main character undergoes her internal conflict and her personal arc. The more you develop it, the more narrative drive your story will have.

I'm a strong believer in creating an outline for this plot, whether it's one paragraph or 20 pages, even if you change it in the writing.

Best of luck.

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Finding the story goal

by Suzanne A

Question You gave me some great advice a few days ago when I asked about deciding what a character wants:

"Maybe they all want validation, love, or fulfillment. Or maybe they need to change their situation, get a new attitude, find their purpose, discover the truth, etc. They don't all have to pursue the same thing exact thing, but the same type of thing may be important to them."

So now I am trying to put it into practice and looking for a little more help. I am wondering with something less defined how do i define it? It's hard to even formulate the question but do I view it as a "quest" for something then I know when the story is done? I tend to like things that are less linear, subtle but yet somehow circle back to the beginning. I recently listened to "A Feast of Love" by Charles Baxter and for me that had a perfect ending.

My idea was to base a story on a summer when my sister came back to visit after years of living in another city. My setting was a city I knew well and a bar where i used to work during an exceptionally rainy summer. The characters were people I knew well. I added a fictional father who was a reformed alcoholic having a midlife. The idea was that the returning sister was much bolder and brought out some characteristic in the sister who had stayed behind who was less adventurous and weighed by responsibilities. There are some obvious conflicts: the father's alcoholism and her working in a bar with people drinking too much, maybe some hard feelings because the sister left the family behind. But I am having trouble finding the heart of the story I guess. There is also a thread where the MC used to paint but then stopped for some reason....I had thought this was what she would go back to that had some meaning to her. I was aiming for an upbeat feel with some humor, not all doom and gloom, not a heavy handed "message".

Am i overthinking this? Or is the problem/story goal sitting there in front of my face?

Answer: I don't think you're overthinking it. If you don't figure out what your story is about during the planning you will have to do so during the revision. But at some point, it has to be done.

Bear in mind that anything I say is just a thought based on what you've told me. You have to write what feels right and makes sense to you. Think of it as an exercise in looking through the lens of Dramatica.

Okay, so you have a main character (barmaid) - and an impact character (the sister) who can represent/argue for how the barmaid might change and take a different approach to handling problems.

If the main character is also the protagonist, she has two essential problems to resolve: her inner conflict of whether she needs to change and the external problem, which is the Story Goal. How she resolves her inner conflict will determine if she solves the story goal. It's a question of a) what does she want to achieve and b) what approach will work - hers or her sister's?

Most of the characters will be either concerned with or affected by the specific Story Goal or with the same type of problem. This is how the main character's story and the overall story are connected.

Now, you actually suggest that alcoholism is a candidate for the story problem. I'll say what that implies to me, so you can see if it fits at all.

In the dramatica scheme, alcoholism would fall under the category of Impulsive Responses. If this is the overall concern, it doesn't mean that everyone in the story world is an alcoholic. Some characters (including the main character) may be wrestling with other impulses that they need to hold in check or change or find a way to balance. Some may be affected by or have a vested interest in how other characters cope with their impulses. Some might have a problem with not following their impulses.

You know it's the right goal if solving it would satisfy the concerns of the story world and the protagonist. In other words, if everyone brought their impulsive responses into balance, would that create satisfaction in their lives? If no, then the goal is something else.

Another test is to ask what the consequence might be? What undesirable thing might happen if the main character fails?

(Usually, if impulsive responses is the goal, the consequences has to do with progress - a bad change in direction or pace.) For instance, will the father have a relapse? Will the problems in the community quickly get worse? If the barmaid or sister has a drinking problem, will she start drinking more heavily?

Sometimes, too, it works to reverse these. You could make goal be to create a change in direction and the consequence if it fails be that people become trapped by their impulsive responses.

Of course, the goal does not have to be achieved. Sometimes failure can lead the main character to a better place. For instance, maybe she can't ultimately cure other people's impulses or her own, but the failure leads her to find fulfillment another way.

Hope that helps.

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Story Goal

by Eric B
(Pomona, Ca)

Question: How do you create a story where the only real story goal is to survive? Obviously, the consequence of this story goal not being met is death. How could I make my story goal more complex without changing the main goal?

Answer: On the one hand, you could argue that survival is the goal of most disaster stories such as the film Titanic.

On the other hand, there's an interesting relationship in Dramatica between the Goal and Consequence. For instance, if the goal is any form of "obtaining" (such as obtaining survival) then the Consequence is not "un-obtaining" or "not obtaining," which would be a truism. It would be like saying, "the Goal is obtaining and the Consequence of not obtaining is that you won't obtain."

Rather, the Consequence of not Obtaining tends to be about Becoming or Changing one's Nature, as in, "if you don't obtain survival, you will become a corpse."

You will sometimes find it works better to reverse the Goal and Consequence, as in "you must become a different person (Goal), otherwise, you won't survive (Consequence) - you will lose possession of life. For instance, Rose in Titanic must become someone who is unconcerned with material wealth in order to survive the disaster.

Lots of stories work this way, where the main character must become someone different in order to obtain the goal. That's how you can connect the goal with the main character's inner conflict.

Another approach is to ask what survival means for various characters. Does it mean just to keep breathing, or does quality of life matter? Might some characters be satisfied if their children survive rather than they themselves? Might it be all right if their friends survive, or their company, or their tribe? Or do they want to be immortalized in art, or to leave a legacy? They could all be concerned with survival, but in very different ways.

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Timely and Concise!
by: Eric B

That totally answered my question! It seemed like an obvious answer, but I don't think I would have gotten to it without direction. Thank you a bunch, you got me over that issue.
5 stars and recommendations.

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Story Goal

by Betsy

Question: I am writing a murder mystery and the story goal at first would seem to be that the protagonist(female who discovers dead body) solve the murder. However the story really is going to develop into her falling in love with a good man (police officer) and avoiding the premise in secondary plot of protagonist's ex coming to kill her.

So should my story goal be searching for true love?

Answer: In dramatica theory, there are four throughlines to any complete story.

1. The overall throughline (external problem).
2. The main character throughline (internal conflict).
3. The impact character throughline (the alternative approach).
4. The relationship throughline (the progress of the relationship between the main and impact characters.

The impact character can be the villain, but in romantic stories it is usually the love interest. In this case, you also have a third candidate for impact character (the murderous ex). You should choose one of these possibilities, but either way, the impact character is the person who forces the main character to question her approach by offering an alternative approach.

Typically in romances, the relationship throughline is given more emphasis. The overall throughline may be just a vehicle to force the couple to spend time together so that the relationship can bloom.

On the other hand, many mysteries feature the relationship throughline as more of a subplot or perhaps balanced with the overall throughline (as in Agatha Christie's Partners in Crime).

The story goal is part of the overall plot and is the concern that involves or affects the majority of characters. For example, I'm guessing most of the people your story world have an interest in seeing the murderer brought to justice (or perhaps the opposite in some cases, if the killer has allies). However, the other three throughlines will also have their own focal point of concern.

In a murder mystery the story goal is usually finding out "who done it" and how, or in some cases capturing the murderer.

The relationship plot is usually about how the relationship evolves and the concern usually involves the couple conceiving a new idea about each other or perhaps changing as people. (That's your romance.)

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Story Goal/Consequences

by Tracee


Thanks for posting such great information. My character's mom died during child birth and he never knew his father. Is it a strong enough story goal for him to want to find his father because he (my protagonist) wants to know where or how he belongs in the world? And that he is afraid of dying without knowing? Or do I need a stronger consequence? I'm a bit flummoxed. I really didn't want to go with something as dire (or seemingly cliche) as needing medical assistance.

Answer: Yes, I think you could use that as a goal. The challenge is how to illustrate the consequence of never finding out - not knowing where he comes from.

I can't tell you what to write (it's your job), but what you may need is a way to illustrate the consequence in a tangible, physical way. Perhaps you can present an event that shows how he does not fit in with his peers or adopted family, and therefore with his environment. The implied consequence may be that this situation will continue or worsen over time. Hence, he tries to find his real father to see where in the world he does fit.

You could also give him an example of another character in a similar situation who suffers because of it, but I think the primary thing is to establish his feeling of being at odds with the world that stems from dysfunctional relationships.

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Story Goal/Consequences
by: Tracee

Thanks Glen!

You're pretty awesome. BTW, last week I purchased and completed "Dancing on the Inside." Loved it! I've already recommended it to two friends: both are teachers at great private schools and one is a YA author! You should really think about doing this writing thing for a living. ;-)

My initial idea was to start with him leaving his hometown, already in the train station. (I was obsessed with Amtrak when I was young and always thought it would be cool to open a book/film in a station.) His backstory is he was raised by his mom's older sister. But she had 2 kids and a brute of a husband who was never keen on adding a 3rd mouth to the clan. So I considered doing a couple of flashbacks (I know, tricky, right?) to illustrate the very point that he didn't fit in with his adopted family.

When he arrives to his new town he actually happens upon a pretty glitzy career that adds a new goal and introduces his antagonist. All the while he will still search for his dad. I started the outline but started to wonder if I didn't have enough consequences for not finding his father right away. This was the impetus for posting the question in the first place.

I'm not sure if I'm complicating things for myself, but that is my vision.

Oh boy...

by: Glen

Aha! Now you're adding a new layer that makes me suspect that finding his father is his personal concern - the source of his inner conflict - while the actual story goal is the one involving the antagonist.

Remember that the story goal is the one that involves or affects most of the characters, especially the protagonist and antagonist who are in conflict over it. The protagonist pursues it while the antagonist tries to prevent or avoid it. The Consequence is the terrible thing that will happen if the story goal is not achieved.

The main character's concern is the area where his inner conflict stems from. How he resolves his inner conflict will determine whether he ultimately makes the right choice to achieve the story goal. The fact that he doesn't fit in with his aunt's family will be the source of his inner drive.

The point is to keep the reader guessing. We don't know how he will resolve his inner conflict until his personal climax, which means we don't know if he will make the right choice to achieve the story goal - until it happens.

P.S. Glad you enjoyed my book. Best of luck with this story.

by: Tracee

Thank you. That helps me and I was able to re-work the opening because of your feedback. I've made some adjustments to the first third of the outline. Onward...

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setting the story goal

Hello, thanks for your advice so far, nice articles:) I have some idea about my story, about characters, plot, setting but when I tried to work on your 8 elements of plot, I got stuck on the first point - what the story goal is.

My story is about a young woman living during war who has to escape and hide because of her origin. She finds a job, uses a fake name and starts to live relatively normal life, but in hiding of course.

She meets a man, a soldier, and they fall in love, but love during war between a soldier and a woman in hiding is a difficult thing. They develop a very strong relationship - I want it to be about their love to a great extent. At the same time, suspicious things are starting to happen around her. She finds out that someone is repeatedly looking for something, obviously precious, in the house she lives in. Curious, she wants to find out what it is and who wants it (it's going to be a big thing, not just jewelry or something).

Therefore, if she finds out, she could be put at danger.
After finding out she would probably have to leave and things would change and she will be in danger (I haven't figured this out completely). What is the story goal then? to survive during war? To find true love in difficult times? To solve the mystery of the precious thing? thank you very much!

Answer: Don't take this as definitive, but...

It sounds to me like the story goal is one of Present Situation. The main character is in a situation which she perceives as very precarious and which she is struggling to maintain. Your antagonist (the person after the precious item) threatens to upset this apple cart, so to speak, because he is concerned about the situation in which the item is out of his reach. The bigger picture is that the situation of being caught in a war affects all the characters.

As for the romance, I suggest you make the soldier the impact character. As a soldier, and a man of action, he might be someone who would take a totally different approach to dealing with a situation than the main character. Perhaps while she tries to adapt and stay inconspicuous, his instinct is to confront. Hence, the main character can experience an inner conflict over the right way to handle the situation (does she follow her own instincts, or take a chance and follow the soldier's approach).

Every complete story has four throughlines...

1. Overall (effort to pursue the story goal). The 8 plot elements are usually part of this throughline.
2. Main character (her growth as a person, resolution of inner conflict).
3. Impact character (the soldier, and how his different approach impacts the main character).
4. Relationship (the progress of their romance).

Of course, the other way of structuring this story would be to make the goal about obtaining. In this case, the person searching for the item would be the protagonist and the woman would be main character and antagonist (trying to stop the item from being found).

How do you decide what is the right goal? Ask yourself what the majority of the characters are more likely concerned about. Whether they are for or against the goal, most should be affected by it somehow.

Best of luck.

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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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story goal

by shelley Gill
(Manistee,MI, U.S.A)

Question: I'm writing a story about my protagonist being forced to marry the hero. Her father died early in the book. He arranged for her to marry a man he picked. She didn't find out till he died. I'm not sure if the arranged marriage is my story goal or if my protagonist being self conscious, negative, puts self down, doesn't think she's pretty. and the hero being the opposite, beautiful, handsome, positive is my story goal?

Answer: It's more likely that your main character's low self-esteem is her personal concern or problem rather than the story goal. The story goal is generally the problem or objective that affects or involves most of the characters, if not the entire story world.

One way to determine the goal is to ask yourself...

1. Do you want a happy ending?
2. If the answer is "yes," then what would an unhappy ending look like? What would have to happen for the ending to be unhappy?

The thing that would make for an unhappy ending is your Consequence. The Goal is then the thing that you want to happen instead. The two are mutually exclusive.

For instance, perhaps the father initiated the goal of ensuring his daughter's happiness? If achieving a happy marriage is the goal, then you may find your other characters are also concerned with finding happiness in marriage, for themselves or others.

Another way to approach it is to consider that the way the main character resolves her personal concern will determine whether she can achieve the story goal.

For instance, perhaps by changing her opinion of herself (or bringing this guy down from his pedestal) she might make the right decision (whether or not to marry him) that will lead to the happy ending. Alternatively, she might choose someone else who is not on such a pedestal but who is someone better suited for her.

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by: shelley G

Thank you it was very helpful

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Story Goal/Goals in Plot???

by Krishna

Question: If I understand correctly, the plot of a story has one story goal. Goal, consequence, etc. Something the main character needs to achieve. I'm just confused on whether or not there can be more than one, and if so, how?

For example, in the Hunger Games, Katniss's main goal is to keep her family safe (I think). After a few specific events in the story, she is entered into the games and her new goal is to survive. Therefore, do overall story goals change as the story goes on depending on what has happened? Do they change given certain events or is it more like requirements throughout a story?

Frankly, I'm confused. Also, somewhat off-topic, what are the most used/most popular goals in novels and how are they realized in the story. Simply to say, what events set these off? From the beginning of your first sentence onwards, what makes the story shift and twist to the story goal later on in the book when it must be overcome to succeed in whatever the character is doing? I hope this makes sense, I honestly have no idea as to whether or not I'm repeating myself or if I myself have no idea if this is the specific question I wanted to ask. Thanks for reading!

Answer: It is true that each character may have personal goals. However, the story goal is the goal or the concern that most of the characters are involved with or affected by, which makes the story goal an element that unifies the story. The character who most clearly pursues the story goal is called the protagonist.

In the case of The Hunger Games, survival is certainly the goal. Katniss, as the protagonist, pursues the survival of herself and her sister, Prim. However, most of the other characters are also concerned with survival, including all those eeking out a living in District 12, the tributes, and everyone else who fears what will happen if they earn the Capitol's displeasure. In fact, the Capitol itself is worried about it's own survival. It's fear of another rebellion is the reason it keeps everyone oppressed.

The story goal does not change throughout the story, but sometimes it is only after you have read/seen the story and can consider its entirety that you can recognize what the real goal is.

For instance, in the first act of The Hunger Games, Katniss learns to hunt and takes food from the Capitol so her family can survive. She volunteers for the games because she knows she has a better chance of surviving than Prim. Throughout the rest of the story, she tries to win the games because she believes her family's survival depends on it.

Her suicide pact with Peeta results from his influence on her (as impact character) which causes her to abandon her focus at the climax and refuse to let the games turn her into a killer like Cato (when the more sure path to survival would have been to kill Peeta). Though she wins the games, her "mistake" results in her incurring the Capitol's displeasure, with the effect that her life will be less free from then on.

There can be a number of requirements, but they are all stepping stones towards the goal, such as learning to hunt, winning sponsors, eluding the career tributes, etc.

The most popular story goal is what Dramatica calls Obtaining. The term has a number of meanings including...

* getting the prize
* winning
* escaping (winning freedom)
* un-obtainng or destroying (e.g. The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars)
* finding what's lost or hidden
* recovering something that was stolen

Usually, the inciting incident of a story creates an imbalance, wound, disharmony etc. and the resolution of the story brings a new harmony, balance, peace etc.

For instance, when Harry Potter's mother sacrifices herself to protect Harry from Voldemort, it leaves both Harry and Voldemort wounded/scarred, and that wound can only be resolved by Harry sacrificing himself to protect everyone else. When Isildur does not destroy the ring in The Lord of the Rings it leaves an open wound that can only be healed when the ring is finally destroyed unintentionally by Gollum. The survival of District 13 in The Hunger Games creates a paranoia in both regimes which can only be resolved when the leaders of both are deposed. Darth Vader's fall to the dark side of the Force can only be resolved by Luke's steadfast refusal to abandon his Jedi training.

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Story Goal
by: Vijay

Hi, Krishna,

It's interesting to know that the goal in a story affects everyone including sub-characters.
Can Impact character have his own goal which opposes the main character goals and which in turn forces main character to have her own goal? Can they both be successful in achieving their goals after the climax?

Thank You,


To Vijay
by: Glen

Usually, the main and impact characters differ in the way they approach trying to achieve the story goal. For instance, Katniss tries to survive by adapting, while Peeta tries to survive by not letting himself get changed.

Usually, if the main character changes, the impact character will remain steadfast (since he/she was right). For instance, when Luke Skywalker decides to trust the Force, Obi wan's faith in the Force does not change. On the other hand, if the main character remains steadfast, usually the impact character will be forced to change (since the main character was right).

The question of whether one or both of these characters is better off or happier at the end of the story depends on the story and other factors. Many variations are possible.

Story goal
by: Anonymous

I want to write a story for a comic. I want to create and I ask myself whether the same rules of writing apply for this?

I feel like i should be able to have multiple goals but maybe I am just not understanding it/ seeing the big picture yet.

For instance let's say I've got a story that starts with a girl running away because she is being chased. An older man sees this event and helps her escape (because she looks honest and in need of help)

It turns out the man is right, the girl didn't do anything wrong, in fact she herself doesn't know what the people who chased her want from her.

So the man agrees to help the girl find out what the men want from her and thus their adventure starts, with their goal being "to find out why the girl is being chased"

As the story continues they find out a lot of stuff and as it turns out the girl has unique special powers which the chasers want to use to create weapons.

So the man and girl now want to get rid of all the enemies, so the girl can live a normal and free life, and thus their goal changes into "get rid of obstacles that prevent her from having a normal life."

So did just change story goals here? Or was the "get rid of obstacles that prevent her from having a normal life" always the main goal, but my characters did not realize this yet because they couldn't see the whole picture?

(And thus the readers cannot comprehend the whole story goal either at the beginning, since events that will make the story goal clear still need to unfold?)

To Anonymous
by: Glen

I agree it sounds like a shift occurs when your main character stops trying to run from the villains and goes on the attack -- which makes me think that the real goal has more to do with stopping the villains than simply escaping them (since mere escape wouldn't resolve the story problem).

This often occurs in stories. Characters pursue what they think is the problem, only to realize at some point that there is a deeper problem that must be solved.

It also sounds to me like the villains in your story have a goal -- something they want to do with the weapons they will create if they get their hands on the girl.

Stories like this fall into two types.

In some stories, the head villain is the protagonist who is pursuing the goal (world domination, etc.) and the main character (the girl) is the antagonist who is attempting to prevent the goal from being achieved.

In other stories, the main character is the protagonist pursuing the goal of eradicating her enemies.

One way to decide which option is correct is to ask yourself what the consequence will be. For each possible goal, consider what disaster will occur if it is not achieved.

Look for the best combination of goal and consequence, the one that makes sense both in terms of plot and the message you want your story to deliver.

Best of luck.

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story goal and chapters

by smita

I liked your tips and information..
I am working on a novel in which a girl lives in other world with her boyfriend.the other world is same as ours...she needs to give an exam in order to live there..but she failed.and was sent to earth..she is very mean.she worked hard there on earth and met a man whom she fell in love. she passed her exam but now has to choose between her boyfriend and the one she is in love with..what should she do?
I am very confused about my story's goal and I don't know how to divide my story into chapters..
Also,please give me some ideas about title of the story..I would be very thankful if you do so..
once again..thanks for the stuff you provided about writing..

Answer: Only you can decide on your Story Goal, but it sounds to me like you have two possibilities.

1. Passing her exam, which will qualify her to return to her former home. (This is a goal of Obtaining.)

2. Choosing which of the two worlds will make her happy (this is a goal of Present Situation).

Personally, I favour the second option.

Very often, in stories like these, when the heroine experiences life in the new world, she gains a new perspective and realizes the world she is trying to return to is not actually the one that will make her happy. The result is a character who gains wisdom as a result of pursuing the false goal (passing the exam) and discovers the real goal (finding a better life).

As for chapters, it's usually better to think first about events. A story, as Aristotle pointed out, is a series of events. The logical place for a chapter break is when one event has finished and the reader is looking to the next event. However, several brief events can be put into one chapter.

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Finding the story goal follow up

by Suzanne A

Question: This is a follow up on some advice you gave me yesterday. So maybe the story is about impulsive responses and alcoholism is one of these. Main characters grew up with an alcoholic father and has tried to fix him. Maybe the mother divorces him and the daughter is the only one willing to help. She ends up an enabler. Her younger sister has impulsive responses also and runs away to New York to discover herself. The older sister is afraid of her own inherited impulsiveness and so overcompensates. She holds herself in rigid check. Besides bartending she is an artist and this ends up affecting her creativity. She still paints but the pictures are just pretty wall art, nothing else. Maybe she has painted something more powerful when she was in the middle of some painful situation so has a memory of different times. I had imagined a sort of disturbing painting hidden in the basement.

So the sister returns and maybe it’s because some impulse has put her in a bad situation so she has run home this time. The father is in recovery but it is new and precarious. Maybe the sister pushes the main character to be more daring? To do things instead of overthinking? Maybe she has an unspoken love interest? And there will be people overindulging at the bar and smaller regrets, consequences of these. And maybe one of the other bartenders in an alcoholic. Could the father try to offer advice? The main character get overinvolved in trying to help?

I think my question is can impulsive behaviour be the focus, with various subcategories of how this is expressed? Could the main goal of the story be dealing with a balance between impulsiveness and overcontrol? Are these opposites? If the main character is too controlled her solution will be to take a risk? To let go of her need to control things? To trust her father to take care of his own problem (ie stop checking up on him)? Maybe go into therapy to understand her feelings about his alcoholism and the loss of her family? Maybe to just finally express her concerns to him and admit how much it has affected her. The consequence would be she could really get hurt/could have to stand by and watch her father start drinking again and feel like she is the cause/may not become a better painter? Does the father need to backslide to make this work? could her just disappear and no one knows for while what he is doing? Could another character mimic his previous journey, ie start to miss work and get into trouble? Is the painting angle too trite or is it more of a closure piece, where she isn’t really working at it but it is an unexpected end result? When she resolves her issues with overcontrol her creativity is freed up?

It’s fun to try and work this out as a puzzle instead of looking for ideas in a more random fashion. I am very new to the whole concept of structure but have always suspected there was something I was missing. It’s great to have someone so versed in the process to steer me along. I so appreciate your input.

Response: Excellent work! You're asking all the right questions. My answer to just about all of them would be "yes," They are all sound possibilities You just have to choose.

What you might consider is the climax.

What choice will she make to resolve her inner conflict - stay with her established approach or switch to her sister's approach. And will that choice result in her achieving the story goal or failing?

It sounds like you may be heading in the direction of a tragi-comedy ending, where she may fail to achieve the goal, but find personal triumph in resolving her inner conflict (painting).

If you haven't checked it out already, you might look at this article on the 8 Plot Elements, as a next step...

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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.

Comments for is it ok to have a more abstract story goal?

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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.

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.

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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