Your Hero’s Goals

Posted On Oct 15 2013 by


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:

Child Raising

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.

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Last Updated on: October 15th, 2013 at 6:40 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.

2 responses to “Your Hero’s Goals

  1. This is INCREDIBLY helpful, Ron. My characters tend to walk around doing random things while I wait for them to reach their one measly goal. Realizing that, like real people, they have many goals all at the same time is a light bulb moment for me. Keep the posts coming. I’m following along at home, though I’m woefully behind.

    I see that you’ve studied a lot of writing craft books, and I like how you simplify them. Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering was one that I spent months on and still struggled with, and when I found your posts on story structure it really clicked more for me. Someday when you have the time, would you consider doing a post highlighting your favorites? Or maybe show how you weave principles from different books together in your own writing? If that makes sense.

    Again, I’m loving the NaNoPlotMo posts, even though I’m not doing NaNoWriMo. Thank you!

    • Thanks Melanie. You made my day! First, try KM Weiland’s book, Structuring Your Novel. She follows pretty much the same principles as Larry and the classic 3 act structure, but she explains it so well that even I can understand it. I’m in the middle of “Save the Cat” now. It’s another classic on structure. Two of the books I’ve mentioned are geared toward screenwriters. But they are the masters of structure. They’re not allowed to just ramble on. They’ve got 90 minutes and they know how to use them effectively. I do plan on combining my favorite posts, maybe even making an e-book out of them. I’d give it away free since none of the ideas are really original. I may not participate in NaNoWriMo, either. If my outline isn’t ready, I have nothing to write. That’s the point I’m trying to make. These little traditions are fun, but if we’re to be serious about our writing, we have to use our time wisely. Thanks again for the reply and I hope we talk again!