‘In nearly all good fiction, the basic – all but inescapable – plot form is this: A central character wants something, goes after it despite opposition, perhaps including his own doubts, and so arrives at a win, lose, or draw.’ ~John Gardner
How do you know if your story goal is good enough to support your entire novel?
In last week’s post, The Story Goal – The Key To Creating A Solid Plot Structure, I discussed what a story goal is and the importance of this goal. This week, I want to give you a checklist to find out if you have a good enough story goal.
The Five Criteria for Creating Successful Story Goals:
Your protagonist must try to gain possession of something – an object, a person or information. Example: Brad, who is trying to rescue his kidnapped daughter, wants possession of his child.
Your protagonist must try to gain relief from something tangible – a threat, an object, a person, an animal, or a condition such as oppression or persecution, and relief from something emotional – fear, pain, sadness, despair. Example: Brad needs relief from the kidnapper’s demands and relief from his feelings of pain, fear and despair.
3. Terrible Consequences
Your protagonist must face terrible consequences if he fails to achieve his story goal. Example: If Brad fails, he will never see his child again.
4. A Worthy Motivation
Your protagonist must have a worthy motivation for pursuing his goal. These could include duty, freedom, love, honour, justice, dignity, integrity, redemption, self-respect, and survival. Example: Brad is motivated by love, duty, and the survival of his daughter.
Note: Soft emotions like kindness and generosity do not work. Neither do negative emotions like lust, envy, anger, greed, pride, and hatred. Revenge is interesting. Readers have trouble sympathising with a protagonist whose sole goal is to get even. The way to make this work is when the justice system has failed to punish someone who really deserves to be punished.
5. Tremendous Odds
It should appear impossible for your protagonist to achieve this goal. Example: Brad will have to track a criminal, deal with law enforcement, handle his family’s pain and test his bravery.
If your story goal is a physical goal and if it meets these five criteria, you will have a solid foundation for your novel.
© Amanda Patterson
If you enjoyed this post, read:
- The Story Goal – The Key To Creating A Solid Plot Structure
- Proust’s Questionnaire – 35 Questions Every Character Should Answer
- Word Counts – How long should your novel be?
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