Even Short Stories Need Goals


In the previous post we discussed the beginning of your short story. This is the scene or section that orientates your reader. It should be intriguing enough that it lures them in to the story, but then what?

We need to figure out what happens next

The inciting moment of any story is the moment of change for your character. This can be a big event like a new job, a positive pregnancy test, or a truck coming through the living room wall. Or it can be something small, like a stolen glance, two strangers smiling at each other in passing, a lost ticket, or a forgotten memory that is revived.

The important thing is that it is a change that cannot be ignored. (Ignoring it can also be the entire premise for your short story: Imagine the positive pregnancy test and a teenager, or a memory that your hero tries to suppress, but it keeps resurfacing.)

The beginning of your story should give your character his or her story goal. All stories have goals. If you are stuck and don’t know what to write or if you think you don’t have a goal, go back to your beginning. What is happening? Your protagonist needs to deal with whatever is happening and decide on a course of action. The conflict will begin or increase from this point.

‘Make your characters want something right away even if it’s only a glass of water. Characters paralysed by the meaninglessness of modern life still have to drink water from time to time.’ – Kurt Vonnegut

Make your character ‘do’ something

  1. In my first story my protagonist was taking a bath, because she wanted to get ready for a date. The conflict arises when we learn about the video posted online.
  2. In my second story my protagonist is ready to sign the divorce papers. The conflict arises when we learn that she isn’t as committed to the divorce as she has led them to believe. She definitely succeeds at her goal, but at a personal cost.

The goal can change

The goal can change, or not, but it mostly depends on the length of the story. The longer the story, the more likely the goal will change.

  1. In my first story, the girl wanted to go on the date, but her life unravels so she fails, but then she decides to take own life and succeeds.
  2. In my second story, she plans to sign the papers and does. She is conflicted, but doesn’t act on it so her goal remains the same.

The goal and conflict forces the character to change. The change can be emotional or physical, but we’ll talk about that in the next post.

Take a look at the stories in the previous posts. What is the story goal?

P.S. Please join the group on Facebook if you want to submit your story every month: 12 Short Stories In 12 Months.

If you want to learn how to write a short story, join us for Short Cuts in Johannesburg or sign up for our online course.