Finding Goals for your Character: An epic quest for rum and motivation4 min read
Every Lizzie Bennett needs a Mr Darcy. Every sharpshooter needs a target. And every pirate needs to know where her next mug of grog comes from. Characters need goals, something to aim towards. A goal is not the same as motivation. Pirate Greg wants rum. That’s his goal. But Pirate Greg’s motivation is to forget a recent fiasco. (He crashed his brand new, and uninsured, pirate schooner into the pirate cave wall when parking. Teach him for using the disabled pirate bay. Though he does have a peg leg.)
There are big character goals and little ones. The big ones should be linked to the plot; taking down a corrupt empire; getting the rich lady or gentleman down the aisle; not letting everyone be turned into a zombie. Some books are just one big goal that the hero is aiming towards.
But goals can sometimes be stepping stones. You can’t reach goal number 3, until you complete goal 1 and 2. Sometimes the goals are in direct sequence. Think about Ready Player One. The overall goal is to complete the mystery quest for the pot of cash. Each gate and key is a separate test that has to be overcome sequentially. But other times the goals change more organically. Katniss has a goal to save her sister, then a goal to survive the Hunger Games. Then her goal becomes killing President Snow. Her motivation throughout might stem from the fact that the status quo is morally corrupt. But the goals themselves change.
You can’t consider goals without motivation because they will feel very artificial. So ask yourself, what is the grand drama your hero is taking part in? And what circumstances are they in at the beginning of the story? How do you leap from one plot point stepping stone to the next? If your character is starving, then they are likely to need some food before they can start accurately piloting any spaceships. If your character is broke, she can’t take the hot new lady in the squadron to the fancypants restaurant. Working it out step by step helps you consider the motivations of your character and how they might change as their circumstances do. Break down your plot and keep asking yourself, what is the goal and what is the motivation?
If you’re struggling to find a goal, or a motivation, then you need to give your plot a good hard kick in the timeline. Where is it going? What is it trying to achieve? Why has it drunk all the rum and left Pirate Greg bereft and rum-less?
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