Author Lisa Cron walks you through an example of how to include a clear goal to help the reader connect more deeply and be more engaged with the story.
- We know that the protagonist must have a very clear goal at the start of the story, something he or she desperately wants but can't yet reach. Here's an example of the kind of external goal a writer might create during the development stage of a story. - [Writer] Dan ditched a promising career as an environmental lawyer to take a lucrative job at an investment company that specializes in oil futures. He made this move even though he knows the guys at the top of the firm are shady, because he just turned and his goal is to make - Do we know what Dan's goal is? You bet.
He wants to make $10 million. That is pretty darn clear. What's missing is the why. We have no idea why he wants the $10 million other than a rhetorical, "Hey, who wouldn't?" But we don't turn to stories to tell us what we already know. We turn to stories to tell us what we don't know and are dying to figure out. And what we don't know here is why Dan wants $10 million. One answer could be that he wants it to buy a lot of expensive stuff. The only problem is that that still leaves us thinking, "Yeah, but who wouldn't? "What's your point?" The trouble is, right now the answer to, why does Dan want the money, is basically, just because.
And in a story, you never want the answer to anything to be just because. So how do we find the real answer? By asking, what does having a lot of money mean to Dan? In other words, we're looking for his internal goal. So let's figure it out. And notice that once we do, it completely changes and deepens the plot, including shifting his external goal. - [Writer] Dan spent his goal dedicated to helping humanity.
He's worked long hours, and along the way he's neglected his wife, his friends, even his own health. Just as his environmental law firm scores a major victory against a big oil company, he discovers that his little girl has a rare and deadly blood disorder and he realizes how much his family means to him. They doctors tell him they've found a cure, but they need $10 million to implement it. Torn between his drive to help humanity, and his desire to save his daughter, he quits his job and goes to work for the very oil company he's on the verge of putting out of business.
His goal: to make enough money to save his daughter. The cost? He must help overthrow the victory his law firm just spent years securing. - Hey, it turns out Dan's real goal was to save his daughter's life. The money is just a means to that end. And his internal goal is to prove to his wife and daughter that he loves them so much, he'll do anything for them, which sets up an excellent internal struggle. Which is more important to Dan, helping humanity or saving his beloved daughter? And, is there a way he can do both? That's the kind of premise that really hooks a reader.
- What is a story?
- Hooking your reader
- Feeling what the protagonist feels
- Being specific
- Creating suspense and conflict
- Writing flashbacks and subplots