Goals - how are they coming along?

Sometimes these things need to be revisited.  Goals.  We all make them.  We all strive towards them.  And we all tend to fall short of them every once and a while.  Goals.

Goals - it's a tricky word, isn't it?

For Catholics, this time of year is filled with goals - everyone makes goals - meaning something they are willing to give up during Lent to show they are good Christians.  I have always thought it would be better to think of what I would want to do better in life.  I love those people who say - "Well, I'm giving up chocolate" or "I'm giving up pop" (or soda if you're front a different part of the country).  The problem with giving up something like that is - what have your really proved?  As soon as that time period is over, you go back to eating it or drinking it and all you have proven is you can live without it for a set period of time.

What if instead you said you were going to curb your temper when you drove? Or if you said you would actually reconnect with someone from your past?  These are more life-changing goals than the ones where you give something up.  Do something different with your life.  Expand your horizon.  Explore deeper possibilities and maybe, just maybe, you might find yourself closer to some of your goals than before.

What in the world does this have to do with writing?  Don't we make goals all the time?

In my critique group, we have a person in charge of goals.  I used to do this job.  Everyone who made a goal would write it down on paper and place it inside the box with a dollar.  Then at the next meeting, we would read off the goals and see if we made our goals.  If we did, our name stayed inside the box and someone would pull a name.  The winner would win the money in the kitty.  Sounds like a fair way to make goals, doesn't it?  Sure, and it's fun, you might make some money to buy a fancy pair of shoes you've been drooling over forever.

We tally our pages written as well.  This is a chapter-wide goal - we hope that by the end of the year, we have written a certain number of pages.  Of course, this places everyone on the honor system and we report our pages written each month to the page counter.  Another way to keep us on track when we are writing.

I like goals.  They keep me grounded.  I like to make sure that I am writing every day. If I am not writing, I am editing, which in effect is writing too, because I am rewriting pages.  Doesn't that count?


Here's the nitty-gritty of writing - goals for our characters.  Yes, our characters need goals.  Why?

Don't you have goals?  Don't you have something that keeps you motivated every single day of your life? Something gets you up each morning, gets you to walk out that door, and keep on moving in life.  It's whatever goal you have made for yourself.  This is true for your character.  The more important the goal, the more the reader likes him/her.

What would Harry Potter be without the goal of defeating Voldemort?  What would Katniss Everdeen do without the goal of staying alive in Hunger Games?  What would the Phantom do without his need to control Christine?  What would Spartacus do without that goal to survive and avenge the death of his wife?  I think you get the picture.

The more desperate the goal, the more you want to root for that character.  If you have read the Hunger Games, you cannot help but root for both Katniss and Peeta.  The goal of survival is so primal and real, you want them to survive. You need them to win because there is that sense of hope.  The president even  says it in the book - hope is dangerous.  When people start to hope for their survival, he knows it means an end to his way of life.

When we write our books, we have to make sure our characters have a goal - survival, revenge, greed, family, or even fame to guide them.  Sometimes these goals are anti-heroic, but as long as we buy into that goal and we believe that is what the hero/heroine is striving for, we are willing to go along for the ride.  Usually, we realize long before the hero/heroine that the initial goal is not really the one that was important at all.  For instance, in the case of fame - it wasn't fame that drove them - but what went along with the fame - sometimes adulation, wealth, a sense of belonging.  We need to dig deeper with our characters to show how this is important.

So, figure out what the goal is.  Then as you analyze your character, ask yourself this question - is this really the goal he/she is seeking?  Think about yourself or other people you know who are seeking those same things.  Then analyze it further.  That friend who seems to plow through everyone else in order to get ahead in the world - is that what she really wants?  Once she gets there - will she have found happiness? Will she finally be relieved she reached that goal? Or was it something else driving her to push aside all else to achieve it?  Now, you're getting someplace with your story. Now you are starting to understand your characters better.  Now you are creating characters that your reader wants to root for because they can connect with them.

When you pick a goal for your character - go big - go epic - then twist and turn it around so many times, that you find out what really drives this person.  Think about Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz - at first her goal is to get as far away from Kansas as possible. She wants to run away.  At the end of the story, she realizes she had what she needed all along right there.  She just lost sight of it.  She had to go full circle in her life to figure it out.  She had to learn an important lesson along the way.  Once she did, she realized the goal she had chosen wasn't a good goal for her after all.  This happens to our characters all the time.

Twist them.  Make them hurt.  Make them cry out in anguish they think they can't achieve their goal.  Then, make them realize what their true goal was all along.  There's your story.

Have fun writing.  AND - keep making those goals.

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