Your Hero’s Goal

Posted On Oct 12 2013 by

Superhero businessman flying over downtown

Day 3 of NaNoPlotMo

Okay, let’s review:

Your first two days of National Novel Plotting Month should have been spent developing the backbone of your story: The Moral Premise. Here are the steps you should have taken:

  1. Idea…A future society where kids are sent to fight to death.
  2. Concept…What if two kids from each of 12 districts are drawn in a lottery to fight to the death in order for a tyrannical government to maintain control?
  3. Premise…Katniss Everdeen is sent to the capitol of a dystopian society to fight 23 other kids to the death. (Note: Premise is not the same as Moral Premise, it simply adds a protagonist, goal, and conflict to your concept).
  4. Moral Premise:
    1. Choose a Vice…Self Preservation.
    2. Choose a Virtue…Defending the weak.
    3. Add ’em up and you get: Self Preservation leads to isolation and death. Defending the weak leads to allies and life.

    Remember the equation:

Vice Lead to Defeat

Virtue Leads to Success

Keep in mind that this is my personal translation of The Hunger Games into a moral premise. You may see something different. That’s the beauty of fiction. We don’t preach. We embed a message. Our readers may develop their own interpretation. For example, some may see Katniss’ vice at the beginning of the book as Cowardice or Fear. As in real life, there’s always more than one vice allotted to each of us. But your job is to choose the primary vice that drives your Hero’s behavior at the beginning of your book, right up to the mid-point. After that, the prevailing virtue will drive behavior. For a clearer understanding, be sure to grab The Moral Premise by Stanley Williams.

The Hero’s Goal

Now we’re on to the meat of the story. The hero’s goal is the backbone of your novel. Without it, you have no novel. A hero needs a goal and conflict to create a story. Understand, your hero will have many goals–career, family, romance, financial, personal, etc. We’ll get to those later. For now, we need the goal that will give us the bulk of the story. You’ve already touched on it when you created your premise. Let’s make sure it’s well defined before we take another step.Your goal could be as simple as surviving a first dinner with your future in-laws (Meet the Parents), or as complex as saving the universe from an evil empire (Star Wars). As long as you can create obstacles for your protagonist, any goal can be made an impossible quest.

Let’s take a moment here to give you this bit of common sense, which ain’t so common: make your protagonist’s life absolutely miserable. I like the adage “Put your protagonist up a tree and throw stones at her.” This is where I, and many, new writers fall short. If you want an example this weekend, go out and see Gravity with Sandra Bullock. I just saw it last night. Take a woman and set her adrift in space. You’re thinking, There’s no way she can survive. Good. How’s that for a hook? You gotta know, right? When you see the film, keep count of how many obstacle are thrown in Sandra’s path. Even though you know it’s fiction, you’ll probably want to hug her if you meet her in person. This, my friends, is how to make your protag’s life a living hell. There’s minor swearing in the movie and one F-bomb. My wife, however, insisted that she personally would have used up all her oxygen on F-bombs if she were in the same predicament. So it’s understandable.

Sandra’s goal was to get back to Earth. Simple right? Now how about yours? Let’s go to our example. I’ll continue with my current WIP, Camp Dogs.

Protagonist: TJ Coolidge.

Goal: Set out across a future, fragmented America to find the one woman who framed him in the fraud that triggered the collapse of the U.S. economy.

I made that a little long. That’s more like my log line, or elevator pitch. I could probably shorten it to:

Goal: Find the woman who framed him in a securities fraud.

Here’s something to keep in mind: Goals change. Remember that mid-point moment? Your character will switch from vice to virtue. Luke Skywalker’s goal was to save Princess Leia. But at some point he decided to fight for the greater cause and destroy the Death Star. Since he didn’t even know it existed at the beginning of the film, it couldn’t be a goal. TJ Coolidge’s goal will change as well. But I ain’t tellin’ yet!

So, take the time today to go over the first two days, solidify your Moral Premise, and determine your Hero’s Goal. You can even start listing some of the obstacles you can throw in his path. We’ll get to that tomorrow (yes, we’re working on Sunday…November’s comin’ fast).

I’d love to hear how you’re progressing. Leave a comment below.

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Last Updated on: October 12th, 2013 at 10:08 am, by Ron

Written by Ron

Just about everything I believe has been shaped by the written word. But books don't force a belief; they stir the imagination so that you, the reader, eventually draw your own conclusions. We grow richer in spirit when we read, deeper in our understanding of the universe and our role in it. That's why I read. That's why I write. To offer you a bit of myself. Come along on my journey, won't you? There's plenty of room.