This week’s video talks about the crucial difference between your character’s goal in the overall story and within individual scenes–and how getting the two mixed up can irremediably endanger your book’s success.
What’s the fundamental basis of plot? Your first instinct might be to say, “Conflict.” And that’s not wrong, but then what’s the fundamental basis of conflict? If we dig down a little deeper, what we find is that conflict begins with a character’s goal.
Your character wants something. And he wants it so badly and with such personal and urgent intensity that he is going to chase it all the way from the beginning to the end of your story. Not only is your character’s goal the basis of your plot, it’s also what’s going to create an overall sense of cohesion. It’s what’s going to tie together your entire story, from beginning to ending.
But what happens to your story when there isn’t a strong overarching goal?
In a nutshell? Bad things.
One of those bad things is the fact that your story will end up becoming very episodic in nature. Why? Because the ideal overarching goal that should be driving your character throughout the story is going to be replaced, at best, by a series of smaller goals.
Your character will pursue and reach these small goals, one after another—which will keep your story rolling along. But without that overall goal to pull these smaller goals together, you’re going to end up with a story that lacks any kind of through-line, any great pull toward the ending.
Now, of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with your character’s having many smaller goals throughout your story. Indeed, the smaller goals are the foundation of good scene structure, where we have goal, conflict, outcome—and the cycle just keeps repeating. The key, however, is making certain all of the smaller goals are related to and tie into the larger story goal.
Consider your book and ask yourself, What is your character’s goal in the overall story? And then dive down to the scene level and start examining his smaller scene goals. Are they all tying into that overall story goal? If so, you’re on the right track to a cohesive and powerful book!