We already talked about your hero’s story goal. Kill the shark. Save her son. Get through the blind date. But if your hero has one goal, what you have is a short story, not a novel. Every hero has multiple goals. She should have more goals within the story than any other character. There’s no hard and fast rule, but I’d say five to seven goals is ideal. They don’t need to be complex. In Liar Liar, one of the hero’s goals was to get his dog to go potty outside.
But here’s the kicker: Every one of these goals will be hindered by the same VICE. Accordingly, each of the these goals will be achieved by the same VIRTUE. Remember your vice and virtue from the story’s moral premise? Okay, keep that tucked in your brain for now. We’ll get back to that.
For now, you just need a list of goals for your hero. I like to list the antagonist’s goals first, like we did yesterday, because I don’t want to make the mistake of molding my antagonist to fit my hero. I want an antagonist who stands on his own. A character your reader will love–even if it’s love to hate–as much as your protagonist.
List your hero’s Goals
So let’s list some goals for our hero. I’ll go back to my current WIP, Camp Dogs. TJ Coolidge has many goals, let’s see what they look like:
Story Goal: Find the woman who framed him in the securities fraud that triggered the Great Crash.
Work Goal: Find and keep a job.
Romance Goal: Win the affection of the woman who’s been caring for him.
Justice Goal: Prove the innocence of a man accused of murder.
Freedom Goal: Don’t get caught by the federal authorities.
Survival Goal: Avoid the dangers of this new America–thieves, wild dogs, crooked cops, etc.
Personal Goal: Learn how to build a fire.
That’s seven. I may come up with more as the story develops, but that list will allow me a minimum of 21 story beats (3 per goal). The story goal, however, will have more than 3 beats, so my protagonist’s goals will fill the majority of my novel.
My story is a bit on the spec fiction side of things, so my goals are a bit unusual. Most of us can pull from some basic life goals, though. Good examples are:
Goals Develop your Character
The list can go on and on. See what’s going on? You are developing your protagonist, giving her depth. In The Patriot, Mel Gibson’s character, Benjamin Martin, has a personal goal. Remember what it was? To build a rocking chair. In fact, when we first meet him, he’s trying out his latest attempt. And failing. He tosses his latest failure into a growing pile of rocking chairs turned firewood. That connected us with this character. We can’t connect with winning a revolution, but each of us can connect to having some craft or hobby that we were determined to master. This is why this list is so powerful. It allows you to choose your scenes, even your opening scenes, with a clear goal in mind. Out of my list of 7 goals for TJ Coolidge, I can choose any and open my story with it. Readers will become enthralled with my character’s inability to build a fire as they will with his desire to catch the woman who framed him.
Okay, so there’s today’s assignment. Make your list of goals. Think about your protagonist, the setting, the circumstances. Think outside the box. Throw in something unusual. Does your hard-boiled PI want to grow roses? Does your victorian romance heroine sneak off at night to practice her knife-throwing skills? Does your priest pine over the woman he loved before answering the call and follow her life on the internet?
Goals make your character. So get to work. Tomorrow, we fill in the cast and give them goals of their own.