When you’re constructing the Story Goal for your novel, how concrete does it need to be? Does it have to be something your protagonist can do all by himself? Or is it enough if he just helps out? Is it enough that he was just a cog in the wheel?
Amadeus posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:
I’m a teenager writing a fantasy novel, which is the first in a series which looks to be about three books. The protagonist is an eighteen-year old guy, whose hometown is ransacked, and he’s captured, which is the first disaster. That’s when he makes the choice to fight against the tyranny to try to defeat it, but is that a good enough Story Goal? Is it enough emotional payoff for the Good to beat the Bad, even if the lead character has little or nothing to with it himself? What if he’s wounded while his friends win the all-important Final Battle? I just don’t think it’s enough for Good to win over Evil–it’s too impersonal. The lead character has to defeat the Villain himself. What do you think?
Randy sez: Your Story Goal needs to be something that is possible for your lead character to do, possibly with some assistance. But he needs to be in on it in a major way.
Example: In THE LORD OF THE RINGS, Frodo’s Story Goal is to throw the Ring into the Cracks of Doom. He makes this decision at the Council of Elrond. Notice that his Story Goal is NOT to defeat Sauron. That is his Ambition (and it’s the Ambition of most of our good guys in this novel).
But defeating Sauron is abstract. (I define an Ambition to be abstract.) What does it look like to defeat Sauron? It could look like many things — cutting off Sauron’s head, or vaporizing him with an atom bomb, or feeding him a live grenade and letting it explode. You can photograph any of those. You can’t photograph “defeat.” That’s too vague.
Frodo’s Story Goal is concrete. You can photograph throwing the Ring into the Cracks of Doom.
So Amadeus, your character has a fine Ambition — to battle tyranny. Now you need to turn that into a concrete Story Goal. What will it look like for him to battle tyranny? Will he become a commando and destroy the crucial bridge? Become a witch doctor and learn to bring back every dead warrior to fight again? Learn the power of the Grzazaga Force and use it to destroy Castle Ytrtrtr? Develop the power to belch fire and then kill the tyrant while entertaining him with a fire-eating act?
Only you can decide what your Story Goal for your lead character will be. But make it as concrete as you possibly can. Make it something you could photograph. Something that any intelligent observer could see and report back on.
I don’t think it’s enough to just send your hero into battle, get him wounded, and then let the victory be won while he’s recovering in the hospital. If you go that route, you chose the wrong lead character. You should have chosen the guy who actually blew up the bridge, raised the warriors, destroyed the castle, or killed the tyrant.
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