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  1. Sapphire at Dawn

    Sapphire at Dawn Member

    Dec 8, 2009
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    Character 'goals'

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Sapphire at Dawn, Aug 22, 2016.

    I've been reading a lot recently on another forum about overall goals that characters have that drives the story, one goal that influences everything they do in the novel.

    I've looked at some of the books on my shelf, and while some characters have clear goals (CJ Sansom's Shardlake wants to solve the mysteries), others don't really have one single one that I can pin down, other than a generic 'will to survive', 'living their life' type thing. I read mostly historical fiction and some of my books span several years, occasionally the character's whole life, and maybe that's why? An example, The Other Boleyn Girl (not really a book that I like, but it's probably the one that more people will know), Mary has several goals throughout the novel, but not one massive one that underpins everything. Unless it's her rivalry with Anne, but that doesn't seem to be a driving factor for a lot of her actions in the book. Tess of the d'Urbervilles is another one that's got me confused.

    The reason I'm talking about this is I don't think my character has a clear goal at the beginning of the story, except to start her new life with her aunt and hope nobody finds out her secret (her son is illegitimate). I'm having trouble developing this character at the moment and getting inside her head, and I was thinking that perhaps this is one reason why. But I don't see how to give her an ultimate goal at the beginning of the book that ties in with the plot that develops later.

    Does a character have to have one defining goal that drives them through a novel?
    cydney likes this.
  2. hirundine

    hirundine Contributor Contributor

    Jul 25, 2016
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    I don't think it's necessary for a character to have a major underpinning goal right from the beginning of the book. A goal could develop alongside the plot, as a result of the changing events of the story.

    Also, it's not necessary for there to be just ONE underpinning goal for the character. My three main characters all have one shared goal - to monitor a volcano for the purpose of saving lives if it erupts (in case you're wondering, it does). But each character has an individual goal as well. The antagonist wants to get the girl. The female main character - the girl in question - wants to get the OTHER guy.

    The other guy is actually the most relevant to the discussion. At first, his only goal appears to be the shared goal of monitoring the volcano, only with a twist - he doesn't believe it's going to do anything, so he wants to teach the other scientists how to monitor it and then go back home and get back to monitoring volcanoes that have a chance of actually erupting. But a few chapters later, we find out that he does want the girl, but because he lost another girl in the past, he's afraid to go after her because he's afraid he'll end up getting hurt again. So in addition to the shared goal, he also has another goal - to confront his past hurt and move past it, and maybe do it in time to get the girl.

    I'm not sure how much of that is helpful - I just wanted to share an example of how goals can change and evolve, or how they can be hidden at first and then become apparent as the plot progresses. Hope it helps.

    Edit to add: Each character is driven by both goals - the shared one an their individual one. I hope that clarifies things.
  3. hawls

    hawls Active Member

    May 24, 2016
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    So your MC's goal is to start a new life. That's a pretty solid goal. Everything she does is motivated by protecting her secret, which informs what her goals are.

    Characters have to adapt to changing circumstances, threats and the like. If someone is close to discovering her secret, her goal becomes; prevent that one person specifically from getting any closer to the truth.
  4. Ann-Russell

    Ann-Russell Member

    Jun 25, 2013
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    A character's goals often change throughout the plot of a novel, so no, you do not need one defining goal. I do think it is a good idea for you to be aware of what your character's goal is at different times of the novel, as well as the motivation for that goal and the potential conflict preventing them from attaining/threatening that goal.
  5. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

    Mar 7, 2013
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    I have just run across this excellent article that touches on your subject. It is about putting two goals in conflict with one another. A person wants a certain thing, but either wants something else equally that will pull this character in two different directions, or is forced to make a Sophie's Choice kind of decision.

    Check it out. It's really worth a read:

    Last edited: Sep 7, 2016
  6. KaTrian

    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Contributor

    Mar 17, 2013
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    I remember coming across a blog post in Pinterest called 33 Ways to Write Stronger Characters, which I really enjoyed even though I'm not a huge fan of "writing rules." I can't link it for you right now, but I'm sure you'll find it if you search the title.

    Many of the examples were self-evident, and a goal/objective/motivation were mentioned as they really help the story move forward. I remind myself every now and then what my characters want and where they're going, and I'm sure you have something like that going for your characters as well. I don't think it even needs to be one massive goal; I know in the current draft I'm working on, the characters have several. Perhaps the biggest goal for all of the characters is to keep one of them hidden from cops -- that's pretty much the plot -- but they all also have their smaller individuals goals/objectives that at times cause friction between them (like two people are intensely attracted to one another, but their lives are so incompatible, no matter what they do they will be miserable, and I kinda enjoy looking for ways for them to solve this). I like coming up with goals because a book for me is really a person's journey I'm privileged to follow, so that's also the way I write. What the article I read made me pay attention to was my characters' "breaking points," which I think is also something we naturally write as the characters grow and develop over the course of their story, but I never paid attention to it all that consciously.

    Ok, this came out more incoherent than intended, but I guess my point is, yes, your characters needs a goal/goals, but we might sometimes overthink it and in reality they actually already exist, like in your case they are 1) start a new life and make it work 2) keep a secret. She probably succeeds in number one, eventually, but fails at number two. ;)
  7. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributor Contributor

    Aug 27, 2014
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    An interesting example. This is "history", so really happened (The reason I've hyphenated history is because it's a part of history that isn't excessively well-documented, so a lot of what actually happened isn't recorded; in writing this book, the author will have made a fair few assumptions/educated guesses...apart from creating Mary's motivations from very little information; after all, what information does anybody - even me! - have about MY motivations?). What really happens is rarely so clear-cut as what happens in a novel; most of us go through our lives just trying to survive from payday to payday. Perhaps that's why nobody wants to write my biography?

    So, the one overriding goal that drives the MC isn't realistic; it's what makes Jack Bauer so one-dimensional. You know that his only goal is to stop the terrorists, and his apparent distress at having his girl-friend in danger is just contrived.
  8. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

    Jul 7, 2016
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    I don't think characters need to have big, life goals. They just have to want something.
    Nicola likes this.
  9. Nicola

    Nicola Member

    Sep 14, 2016
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    Exactly! ^^

    Also wanting to start a new life and keep a secret are quite major goals in themselves.

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