Word by Word

Practical insights for writers from Jessica P Morrell

Why Your Characters Do What They Do, part 4 goals

Written By: Jessica Morrell - May• 16•17

Goals push characters to act and strive because fiction characters are more goal-driven than triathletes. They can be:






A goal will always be some kind of a test.

Goals always mean everything to the protagonist.

Subplots also require goals and conflict.

  • Aim to make it as hard as possible for your protagonist to reach his goal. Subplots can be useful  as you play ‘keep away’  with your beleaguered protagonist because they add layers of complications. Don’t settle for a boring, wimpy subplot as filler. A great subplot can turn a good novel into a great one. Plot and subplots rendered in a string of scenes require careful attention to details and deliberation.

  • Structure your scenes correctly, creating capsules of time in which significant action takes place; goals are obtained or blocked. Those scenes will take your reader from the beginning to the end of your story in a riveting, cohesive manner.

Case study: Walter White of AMCs Breaking Bad

Walter White, a seemingly mild-manner high school chemistry teacher is given a fatal cancer diagnosis.

He decides he needs to make a lot of money to insure his family’s well-being after he’s gone.

He decides to brew  methamphetamine to accumulate this fund and recruits a former student to distribute the meth.

So far, so good although Walter has broken bad–or is operating illegally.

But then his goals shift as his special blue meth creates a big demand which means he has a new goal of making more. Then he starts meeting the bigtime players in the drug world, including drug lords. He also discovers he needs to launder all his um, earnings.

Then as descends deeper into the criminal world he needs to take out his rivals. Then he needs to struggle to survive and protect his family from his enemies and all along he’s just one step ahead of the DEA, a local agent who is his brother-in-law. Because one of his main goal is to avoid arrest. But now no one respects him and he longs for some form of redemption. And so it goes….

keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

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