Finding Your Story’s (real) Goal

Everything in your story is focused on achieving the story goal. But what is that goal? And what does that mean for your story?

The Wrong Approach: Beating the Bad Guy

Your story goal is (probably) not to beat the villain. With the rare exception of a story about revenge against an old enemy, stories are not about beating villains to a pulp. Frodo was not trying to defeat Sauron, he was trying to save the Shire. Mike and Sulley were not trying to get CPA to shut down Monsters Inc, they were trying to get Boo back home. Wreck-It Ralph didn’t leave on a quest to destroy Cybugs and King Candy, that just kind of happened when he tried to earn a medal.

The point is, your hero isn’t necessarily out to get anyone, even the villain. Your hero might want something completely different.

 

The Real Goal

So, if the story isn’t about Robin Hood killing Prince John, what is it about? I mean, why do Robin and the Sheriff cross paths? It comes down to their ideals. Robin is bound by loyalty to his king and love for his fellow Englishmen to protect the throne and the land from any who would destroy it. Creating a free England ruled by a rightful king is Robin’s story goal. NOT killing the Sheriff.

Every hero has something that they want. Few heroes are so bent on revenge that they only want to inflict pain on another. It’s important for you to know what your hero is after.

What’s your story’s real goal?

Why it Matters

So what though? What in your story changes if you realize that your hero wants a free land and not just a dead usurper? In short, everything.

 

The Stakes Will be Raised

First off, there’s instantly more at stake. Once you understand your hero’s real goal, so will your audience, once they understand that your novel isn’t just a slugfest, they’ll care more. Why? Because ideals will be at stake.

The Battle Will be Clear

Ever read a book that included whole chapters you didn’t think should have existed? Scenes that just confused you? Pages that left you detached from the story, because they had nothing to do with the rest of the book? Knowing exactly what your story goal is, rather than a vague idea of hero beating up villain, will help keep these confusing scenes out of your manuscript. Once you’ve identified your hero’s specific goal, you will be able to ask each scene exactly how it moves toward that end.

 

The End Will be Clear

A perfect example of the application of personal story goals is the movie Cars. That movie had one villain: Chick Hicks. Nobody liked Chick in that movie. As you watched Lightning work in Radiator “Stinks” and eventually make friends there, you still had a mental image in the back of your mind of Lightning beating Chick in the Piston Cup and forever putting away the narcissistic upstart from the limelight.

But that’s not what happened.

The story goal, even Lightning’s personal goal (though at sometimes he didn’t consciously know it) wasn’t for Lightning to beat Chick. From the very start of the movie, it’s clear that Lightning doesn’t have any friends, and that he regrets it. The movie’s goal was for Lightning to get some friends, which meant he was going to have to be a likeable guy (which wasn’t really his thing.)

If, after Lightning lost the final race, the movie had strung on into the next season and the next when Lightning finally did beat Chick, the ending would have been confusing, un-moving, and totally powerless. Instead, the writers knew what the real story goal was, and used it to write a heartfelt finish to a memorable movie (which made them a whole lot of money.)

(But that’s not the point.)

(Not the point of this post, anyway.)

(Confused yet?)

(Don’t do that to your readers. Know your story’s goal. Spare them this confusion.)

 

Photo: stairs, Denis Jacquerye, CC BY 2.0


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Brandon

Raised on C.S. Lewis and matured (to whatever extent) on Tolkien, Brandon Miller is a huge fan of Christian speculative fiction. His favorite stories artfully bend the physical reality to reveal spiritual realities which apply to all realms, kingdoms, districts and solar systems (including our own.)
When not writing fiction Brandon spends his time tending his blog The Woodland Quill, sportsing, or just struggling through that last-year-of-high-school/first-year-of-college which is really neither but is definitely both.

Comment

  1. Kameron Striplin March 11, 2016 at 2:04 PM - Reply

    We’ve had some good (or bad, depending on how you look at it) examples of this in film recently. Especially in the Hobbit movies – the real goal was fulfilled more or less in the second film and the loose end (Smaug) was tied up in the beginning of the third. Story over, right? Nope, we still had to sit through several hours of meaningless fighting and fake tension. All because the Goal of the third movie…well, now that I think about it, there really wasn’t one.
    Great post, this is good advice!

    • Brandon March 12, 2016 at 11:56 AM Reply

      It’s true though. Even though there is always a place for tying up loose ends, it shouldn’t take a third of the completed work. After a while, the audience loses interest.
      Thanks for reading!

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