As you probably know, I do a lot of Developmental Editing on writers’ manuscripts and whether it’s story structure, character development or something else craft-related, I pretty much see the same issues over and over again.
And one of the biggest character issues I see in writers’ stories is not giving their Protagonist a goal from the beginning of the story.
In a story, your Protagonist must want something from the very first page. Now what they want might shift and evolve as the story goes on, and especially once you introduce the Antagonist and the direct opposition to that goal, but there has to be something your Protag wants.
- Creates stakes
- Drives the story
- Creates reader empathy
- Ensures the story is an actual story and not an episodic narrative
- Gives the story an endpoint (will the Protag achieve the goal or not?)
And even if the goal shifts at the First Plot Point when you introduce the Antagonist and the direct opposition (as that sometimes happens), the new goal will still be related to the original goal in the sense that achieving the new goal will help the Protagonist to achieve the original goal.
For example, in the movie Happy Gilmore, Happy’s goal is to become a professional hockey player. It’s all he’s ever wanted in his entire life.
And then at the First Plot Point, we get introduced to one of the Antagonists–an IRS agent–who tells Happy his grandmother hasn’t paid taxes in a decade and she now owes $270k to the government, so they’re taking her house away.
At that moment, Happy’s original goal gets put on hold as this new challenge comes into the mix. But by achieving his new goal of getting his grandma’s house back, he ends up achieving his original goal: to use his hockey skills in a professional way, which he does, by becoming a pro golfer.
And the pro golfer thing never would’ve happened if he didn’t first have the hockey skills and second have the goal of making money fast to get his grandma’s house back.
The goal drives the entire story, even when it slightly shifts temporarily thanks to the Antagonist.
So, does your Protagonist have a goal? And if not, it’s time to think about giving him/her one.
A Protagonist with a goal is one of the most important factors in making a story a story. Otherwise, you have an episodic narrative and that’s not good for anyone.
Dream life or bust,