What the main character wants

by Suzanne A

Question: I love writing characters and settings, the intricate details are what I get tied up in. I have started several novels with a situation in mind or a cool character. I am not someone who works or thinks in a linear fashion and I tend to work sort of erratically. At work I get the job done thoroughly but with writing I get myself into trouble.I will write a lot of scenes but then don't really know how they fit together.

Someone has suggested that i need to know what my character wants more than anything and then to put obstacles in her way. I have read this advice before but and it makes a lot of sense but whenever i try to give them a goal it seems artificial. I think my main characters tend to be less achievers, less motivated, not go-getters by any means. I am wondering how you give a goal to someone who isn't goal oriented? I think there are plenty of people like this in life but does this mean they don't belong in fiction? Or do i need an objective that is less like a goal? more like morality or some other guiding principle?

I've been struggling with this for a while and will continue to try an puzzle it out. Maybe it's one of those "I'll know it when i see it situations" but if anyone has already done the legwork and is willing to share it would be much appreciated.

Answer: Here are some possibilities...

1. Your main character does not always have to be the protagonist. The protagonist will be the person pursing the Story Goal, but your main character could be someone else, someone who is struggling with an inner conflict about
how they should act/be. Their decision, how they resolve that conflict at the climax may be what determines the story outcome, but the Story Goal may not be their focus.

2. Some main characters become willingly involved in the story. Others participate only reluctantly. For instance, if your main character is a be-er, she will be uncomfortable in an action story. A be-er tries to solve problems by changing herself, by adapting to her situation, and is more at home in a deliberation and decision story. That doesn't mean she can't work in an action story, just that she will have to fight against her own nature.

3. There are different types of story problems, and not all of them are about superficial things like obtaining or winning. Think about what would satisfy the majority of characters in your story. 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.

4. Remember too that not all goals are achieved. Sometimes a main character can learn from failure, and sometimes failure can turn out to be a good thing.

Finally, there's nothing wrong with writing a lot of scenes first and later working out the structure of your story in the revision process. However, it is important to have a structure. Think of a story as one big change in the main character's life. The change can be internal as much as external. It will start somewhere, experience pressures that lead to a pivotal moment of decision or action, and end with the person in a different place.

Click here to post comments

Join in and submit your own question/topic! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Questions About Novel Writing.

search this site the web
search engine by freefind

Celebrating our 2nd year as one of the...

 Step-by-Step Novel Planning Workbook

NEW! Make Money Writing Nonfiction Articles

"I've read more than fifty books on writing, writing novels, etc., but your website has the most useful and practical guidance. Now that I understand how a novel is structured, I will rewrite mine, confident that it will be a more interesting novel." - Lloyd Edwards

"Thanks to your "Create a Plot Outline in 8 Easy Steps," I was able to take a story that I simply just fooled around with and went willy nilly all over, into a clearly defined, intriguing battle where two characters fight to keep their relationship intact, and try to find a balance in control of themselves and their lives. Thanks to you, I'm not ashamed of the poor organization of my writing." - Nommanic Ragus

"I am so glad I found your site. It has helped me in so many ways, and has given me more confidence about myself and my work. Thank you for making this valuable resource, for me and my fellow writers. Perhaps you'll hear about me someday...I'll owe it to you." - Ruth, Milton, U.S.A.

"I never knew what to do with all the characters in my head, but since discovering Dramatica I am writing again in my spare time. Thank you for making this available. Yes, it is a bit complex, and it does take time, but I love it because it works." - Colin Shoeman

"I came across your website by chance. It is a plethora of knowledge, written in a simplistic way to help aspiring writers. I truly appreciate all of the information you have provided to help me successfully (relative term) write my novel. Thank you very much!" - Leo T. Rollins

"I can honestly say that this is the first website that is really helpful. You manage to answer complex questions in relatively short articles and with really intelligent answers. Thank you for taking the time to write these articles and sharing them so generously." - Chrystelle Nash

"...had no idea that a simple click would give me such a wealth of valuable information. The site not only offered extremely clear and helpful instructions but was a very enjoyable read as well. The education from your wonderful site has made me a better writer and your words have inspired me to get back to work on my novel. I wish to give you a heartfelt thanks for How to Write a Book Now, sir." -- Mike Chiero