When Two of Your Characters Want the Same Thing

This week’s video talks about how shared goals can either make allies or enemies of your characters.

Video Transcript:

Here’s a riddle for you: Two of your characters want exactly the same thing. Does this make them enemies or allies? The answer, of course, is both. It totally depends on the unique circumstances in your particular story. If your characters both want to achieve their goal for noble or altruistic reasons, then there’s no reason they can’t be allies. Same goes for if they’re both going to benefit if they win the conflict, and/or if they can share whatever it is they’re seeking. Most allies in a story are going to be pursuing the same goal, and, likely, it’s that mutual focus that will have brought them together and allowed them to be friends.

But, of course, the flipside of this is a little more interesting. If your characters happen to want the same thing—but they don’t want to share, or whatever it is that they want just happens to be exclusive—well, then, now we’re looking at some conflicting interests. And from that comes conflict.

One of the easiest and most compelling conflicts we can create in a story is between characters who, in fact, want exactly the same thing. This could be something humongous—such as control over the galaxy, in which case we might have two armies fighting a war, such as in Star Wars. It could also be something much smaller, such as the romantic interest of a girl (such as we find in about million YA books). It could be an object (the Ark of the Covenant in Indiana Jones), personal survival (The Hunger Games), and the list goes on and on.

The interesting part of all this is that, not only does it greatly clarify the various motives of the characters, it can also give us some fun gray area to play in. These characters aren’t necessarily going to be in conflict with each other because one is good and the other is bad. So instead of a good guy and a bad guy, perhaps you have two good guys—or two bad guys. So who’s going to win and get what he wants? Readers will just have to bite their nails and read on to find out.

Tell me your opinion: What is a goal shared by at least two of your characters?

When two of your characters want the same thing

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. The nice thing about characters sharing goals is that they can be used to highlight your MC’s predicament.

    For example, your MC and his opponent(s) may have the same goal, but they have different ideas on how they can accomplish their goal. Doing this not only strengthens the conflict in your story, but it leaves all kinds of nice opportunities for highlighting your MC’s psychological or moral issues. It also is a great way to show change in your MC.

    With allies, they do share the same goal, but if your MC’s ally starts disagreeing with the way he’s trying to accomplish the goal, then you have another great source of conflict, and of course, a better story.

    Giving your characters the same goal – even if its only in the subplot – is a powerful way to ratchet up the tension and create strong characters.

    • K.M. Weiland says

      Exactly. Shared goals provide built-in resonance. When any two characters – but particularly the protagonist and the antagonist – are so closely bound by something, it gives us a ton of space in which to explore the areas in which they differ, such as their methods or moral views.

  2. The cool thing about this is that even if the two people who want the same thing are allies, they may want the same thing for different reasons, which could give you awesome conflict/subtext and subplot 🙂

  3. Great post, Katie! My current wip has that situation. It’s something new, so it will be interesting to see how the story unfolds.

    I like what Rachel said about using it for character growth. I hadn’t thought of it other than creating conflict and adding to the suspense.

  4. Great post! It’s a good starting point to really digging into this and seeing what comes out – two characters taking different approaches to the same goal; allies ending in conflict; enemies becoming allies…

    Then there’s the twist often used where the prot. finally lets the other person get the thing they were fighting for, because the prot. has realised it wasn’t what they *really* wanted after all.

    • K.M. Weiland says

      A shared goal of this sort can definitely make for some interesting shifting of allegiances. The possibilities are endless!

  5. In my current wip, Camp Dogs (dystopian), my protagonist and antagonist both want peace and stability in their small Ohio town. One wants it by cooperating with the federal government, the other by resisting. It’s modeled after the American Revolution, where the rebels thought it best to cut ties with Britain, but the loyalists thought it best to remain a part of the empire. Both wanted peace and prosperity, but through different means.

    • K.M. Weiland says

      Nice. Two sides to the same coin, neither of which are inherently wrong. Gives you a nice bit of thematic meat to chew on.

  6. Kay Anderson says

    Nice post! I agree that having characters strive for the same goal can make a story interesting. In my story the only goal I can think of that is somewhat shared is between Madeline and Jessica, the goal being wanting to” live happily ever after” with Demetrius. However, these two differ because Madeline is all about underhanded schemes to get him to fall for her. She is very materialistic and her rich parents only want her to be with him because he has the same social class has her and a highly paid job. Madeline tries to seek out as many flaws as she can in Jessica and exploit these to her advantage.

    On the other hand, Jessica actually isn’t after Demetrius like Madeline is, even though she loves him. I guess Madeline really doesn’t have much of a fight, but at the same time he kinda does because Demetrius would rather hang around Jessica, both of them growing up as childood friends. Jessica also doesn’t strive to be the best or better than anyone else and doesn’t even like being the center of attention.

    Truth is, her enemy really isn’t Madeline–even though she can’t stand the lady, but her real enemy is herself by suppressing her emotions and acting like she doesn’t care, which by coincidence is the actually same thing Demetrius does to her too, claiming she’s “like a sister” to him. I think some of the most difficult conflicts is when characters have internals struggles and have to fight against their own selves to succeed.

    • K.M. Weiland says

      Great example of how a shared goal can be approached differently – and, even more importantly, how it can be used to deepen all kinds of subtext surrounding both characters.

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