Wednesday, August 22, 2007


Continuing with my reading of
by Todd A. Stone, I reach the discussion of what he refers to as "objectives." Other authors refer to them as "goals" and many a writing workshop has been devoted to them.

Mr. Stone says there are two kinds of objectives, "story objectives" and "personal objectives." I call these external goals and internal goals. The external goal is a motive that comes from outside the character -- to win the race, find the treasure, build the resort.

Since I write historicals, I'd also call this the historical goal; this is the where setting and historical events come into play. This sort of goal is take the castle, guard the queen, help win the war.

The internal goal comes from within the character, the emotions and especially emotional needs that drive him or her. This goal is created by that particular character's past, and it's here where the author really has a chance to create memorable and unique characters. Many people may want to help win a war; what, based on his or her own personal history, makes your character want to?

This is also where the author has the opportunity to create an emotional connection between a character and a reader. These internal goals should be something everybody can relate to, even if your characters are running around ancient Babylon.

But let's not stop with two goals. There should be many smaller external goals that lead to the larger external goal. For instance, let's say the big external goal of the story is to take the castle. Other smaller goals might be to besiege it (what's involved with that?); or parlay with those inside to try to get them to surrender (Will they agree or disagree?); if they agree to surrender, will they keep their word, or is it a trick? All these questions indicate smaller goals, and the more of these you have, the more complex your plot.

When it comes to the internal, emotional plot, I think it helps to think more of layers than one particular goal. Your characters will have feelings and reactions from the start of your novel (or they should), but the real core emotional motive of a character shouldn't be obvious from the start. Since I write romance, let's say one of the first emotional reactions the hero of the story has is lust for the heroine. He wants to get her in his bed. He thinks that will make him happy. At that point, that's all he wants. Or certainly all he thinks he wants.

But that shouldn't be enough for the author, especially if there's to be the sense that the relationship will last beyond the end of the book. That lust and desire has to change to something deeper and more profound; more of the hero's emotions have to be revealed, more layers peeled away until the character (and the reader) gradually discovers his true emotional goal. What does he really, in his heart of hearts, want? Since this is the hero I'm talking about, it should be something good -- like being loved and accepted for who he is, not his title or his achievements or good looks.

For the sake of dramatic tension, this revelation should not come easy. The character should resist, which creates internal conflict within the character. At the beginning, he or she should truly believe that they don't have any deep-seated emotional needs, or if they are aware of such a need, should believe that the revelation of it will be disastrous for them. They should fight to keep it hidden, buried, secret, perhaps from themselves, but definitely from other characters.

So the external goal is something that is achieved, despite problems and conflicts, as the story progresses. The internal goal is slowly revealed, despite resistance and internal conflict.

Nor are goals there simply to provide an end point to the story. The striving toward the external goal and the gradual revelation of the internal goal should propel the story from the very beginning.

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