Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A Little March Madness for Writers


March is in full force and the madness has begun, so it seems like the perfect time to talk about goals.  No, not the kind of goals that we set for ourselves or the goals of sporting games (basketball, football, hockey and the rest), but character goals.

Why do characters need goals?  Because without them, there's either no conflict or the conflict is weak and easily overcome or resolved.  Lack of conflict is often the biggest reason writers get rejections.

Just as in real life, a character's goal is as simple as what the character wants.  It could be a long-term want, such as something he or she has wanted since childhood, or it could be an immediate want that stems from a new circumstance.  There can be times when it's a need.  Whichever, in a good story, the character must be focused on getting it.

The goal should have strong emotional elements for the character.  This could be something she/he has looked forward to doing or having or being.  For instance, Kate Clayborne, the heroine in Bachelor Cowboy,  had vowed to remain unmarried, while keeping her culinary skills a secret from everyone in town.  Or the goal could be from something that has very recently happened or happens when the book opens.  In Bachelor Dad, Garrett Miles learns he has a four-year-old daughter and is suddenly expected to be a daddy, something he's completely unprepared to do.

In a romance, the goals of the two main characters (hero & heroine) should oppose each other.  If she wants a home and family, he should want a career or to build on a career he already has, without the encumbrance of a family.  That's pretty standard fair.  To make it a little more interesting, you could switch the roles.  Either way, each main character--aka the protagonists--have a goal.

A character's goal may change over the course of the book, so don't panic if you discover this has happened.  It can often show character growth.  For instance, the hero in The Maverick's Reward, Tucker O'Brien realized that he wanted to be able to do things with his son, things he hadn't been there to do while the boy was growing up.  That meant he had to take the physical therapy he had avoided for his badly injured leg.

In the end, the characters are able to achieve their goals...or what their goals have become.  Those goals may not resemble the original ones and might even be the opposite of what the character had wanted in the beginning, but that's character growth and very important.  Otherwise, in a romance, how would the at-odds hero and heroine ever get together?

Character goals are often formed by something that has happened to them.  It's the why of the goal. We'll take a look at character motivation--the why--next week.
First, find out what your hero wants, then just follow him! - Ray Bradbury

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