Word by Word

Practical insights for writers from Jessica P Morrell

Quick Take: Characters are all about Goals

Written By: Jessica Morrell - May• 12•17

I’m in the midst of renovating a house and yard.

This hadn’t been in my game plan, but there you have it. Life, truth demanding to be heard. Demanding a big change. The yard has been around for almost 30 years with almost no landscaping done during those years. The house is beat up. As in used up.  Fixer upper means someone kinda crazy lived here previously. And they painted walls dark brown so there’s a lot of crazy to erase.  There are rocks where there should be flowers beds and weeds have taken over and the whole yard needs to be fenced in. To create beauty and order I’ve been breaking this undertaking into a series of smaller goals. If I just stare at the backyard for example, my heart plummets and feelings of overwhelm take over. So I step back and tackle a small goal and it quiets my galloping worries and moves me ahead. And there is nothing like the feeling you get when you cross a goal off your to-do list.

Goals will define and test your characters. Goal by goal, scene by scene–because goals fuel scene–that’s how your protagonist proceeds through the story. Now, as I write this I realize it sounds kind of cold -blooded or formulaic. But wants, desires, plans, steps, contests, machinations, quests, searches, game plans, schemes, investigations, all propel a story forward. Make things happen. Invite  conflict. Shake up the order. Involve the reader.

Goals are footprints and maps at the same time. They drive your protagonist from the first act to the climax. Your character’s goals will help keep you on track as you write.

Coming up: Why Your Characters Do What They Do, part 4

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