Mid-week Technique: shifting goals

Keep those awesome writing questions coming! Today’s query: “what to do when your character goals change mid-story?”

So, let’s talk about the two types of character goals: internal and external. The external is a tangible thing, a want that the character is pursuing at the start of the story. This can be a wife, money, status, boyfriend, a new job, an object, escape from a terrible relationship, etc. In my latest book, A Precious Inheritance, both my hero and heroine desperately want the unpublished manuscript of a deceased best selling author. In my first book, my hero needs answers to his past.

The internal goal is something deep inside that character – a need, a desire – that drives them to action. Your characters are more often than not, unaware of this internal goal – to them, it’s all about the external. Your hero is not going to stop and think “I need a wife to gain control of my father’s shares and in the process will fulfill a deep-seated need for love and loyalty I’ve been lacking.” 😀 The internal is an emotional, unseen, driving force that enhances and feeds into their external goal. For example, your heroine may want to buy a home because deep down, she craves that sense of security and belonging that were lacking when she was growing up. I made a comprehensive list of goals (or wants) ages ago, so here they are:

  • Freedom
  • Adventure
  • Unconditional Love
  • Honour
  • Acceptance
  • Money/wealth
  • Family
  • Status quo
  • Status
  • Respect
  • Revenge
  • Justice
  • Power
  • Security/home
  • Knowledge

I have more on my Write a Novel in 3 months articles here and here.

The internal goals do not shift. That is the whole point of your character’s journey, their driving force that gets them from Chapter 1 to The End. Their internal goal has been formed and shaped throughout their lives, driving their choices.

What can change is their external goal. For example, a girl desperately wants to seduce her hot neighbor, so gets her male best friend to give her seduction techniques. At some point in the story, her external goal (the hot neighbor) changes to the best friend. In one of my works-in-progress, my warrior hero’s external goal is to escape captivity to live a life in solitude. Of course, this goal changes after he meets the heroine and they have to battle together to overthrow the evil king. What doesn’t change is his internal goal, which is peace and acceptance.

The other thing to consider is WHY their external goal changes. Is it because your character’s beliefs have changed? Has something happened? Have they gotten new insight or new information into a previous situation or happening that prompts the change?

Changing your character’s external goal is not bad. It can enhance and enrich your story, provide plot twists and keep your reader hooked. But be aware of why it’s changing. As long as it is in keeping with your character’s core beliefs then go for it!

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4 comments on “Mid-week Technique: shifting goals

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