Monday, January 23, 2012

They need goals, dang it. GOALS!

Don't you hate when you read a book and you just can't seem to root for the main character? Tons of thing happen to MC! But MC just gets swept along in the current, and somehow you can't seem to care.

If it's a character that is otherwise likeable, then I'd venture to say that, nine times out of ten, the reason you're not rooting for the character is because they don't have goals. They aren't working toward something. They haven't made a plan, or they aren't making forward progress.

I know this. It's a huge pet peeve of mine, actually. Yet I still did it.

My writing group and I meet weekly, and we submit a chapter each week. I had written the first draft of a section a couple weeks ago, then went back through to do a quick edit before sending it to my group. Something wasn't right with the chapter, and I could feel it. But I couldn't immediately see the problem, and I was already past my group's deadline, solidly encroaching on too-late-to-read territory. So I sent it. And, like every week, I was reminded why a writing group is so important. They pointed out that Hope didn't have a goal for the chapter. (Her previous goal had been lost in the chaos of a major natural disaster.)

There are huge book-encompassing goals. Ones that you lay out from the very beginning. They can even be series-encompassing goals. But sometimes the goal need only last a single scene or chapter. It may not change how the chapter starts or how it ends, but the presence of or lack of a goal will definitely change how much the reader roots for your character.

But it doesn't stop there. Goals also greatly affect pacing.

Have a part in your manuscript that seems to drag? Take a look at it. It's likely because there isn't any progress being made toward the end goal. Sometimes the answer lies in helping the MC to do things that help him/her to progress toward the goal. But sometimes things genuinely need to get in the way of that goal. If that's the case, see if there's a goal the MC can have-- even if it's only a goal that will last through that one chapter or that one scene. If they are making progress toward ANY goal-- be it the main goal or not-- it will help your reader root for your MC.

You probably already know all this. But as I learned last week, a reminder is worth its weight in... words, I guess. Happy writing! May your day be fabulous, and may all your characters be full of goals.



P.S. The clone I made of myself came out looking like a featherless chicken with one eyeball. It isn't pretty. Or functional, sadly. In an effort to siphon a few more hours a week, I'm only going to post on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays for the next three weeks. So when a post doesn't go up in the wee hours tomorrow morning, know that I'm not dead. ;)

33 comments:

Iain said...

An occasional slight slowing down on posting is probably a good idea for keeping your sanity. I often wonder how you manage such great posts every day and stil manage to do everything else.
And, thanks for the reminder :o)

Clarissa Draper said...

I think what you say is so important. We need to have goals for everything, especially our characters, our chapters and our writing. Great post.

Bea Sempere (Denise Baer) said...

This is a great reminder, Peggy.

Have a great day.

Kelley said...

Yeah, posting every day is REALLY hard. We'll miss you on Tues and Thurs, but we totally understand.

And yes, thanks for the reminder!

Melanie Fowler said...

Love this! I think it was something that I needed to read today. Note to self. every chapter needs a goal, even if it's tiny.

Connie B. Dowell said...

Great post. I'm currently rooting out pointless scenes that I wrote just to keep writing. I suppose, though, that they did have a small purpose in that they kept me going on my manuscript, but now they've gotta go!

prerna pickett said...

it's nice to have an extra set of eyes to point those things out. I just got some feedback from a beta reader and she found a couple of those chapters.

Tonja said...

I think the type A's of the world (myself included) set goals. The Type B's (my husband) don't. So I think if the character is goal-driven in one part of the story, they need to be like that thru the whole story. But some characters, the B's, don't. Maybe B's don't make for MC's. Not sure.

Angela Cothran said...

Amen! Amen! Amen! This is so so so true :) I've fixed a lot of problems by giving my characters focused goals.

Small Town Shelly Brown said...

This is something I know I need to work on- chapter goals.
Your blog is full of useful stuff, Peggy! I love popping in and learning something :)
But you do deserve a 3x week schedule. We can wait (with bells on)

Jenny S. Morris said...

Thanks for the reminder! I'm pretty sure that is what my CP's were trying to say to me about my MC during some key chapters. She is just letting things happen. What is her goal? Going back now to read those chapters again.

Leigh Covington said...

I totally needed this reminder! TOTALLY! I love it. I think we all need the reminders because there are so many thing we need to make our MS wonderful that sometimes we slack off on one, while focusing on another.

And I don't blame you for shortening your blogging schedule. I had to too. It's rough. Wish that clone would have turned out :)

Patti said...

I was thinking about this the other day as well. In my first book, the goal is a little vague. I'm made it much more defined in my second book. Plus I think that you need to look at each chapter and think, what do I want to achieve with this chapter. How is it going to move the story forward.

S.P. Bowers said...

I love crit groups. They help see all the things you're too close to see. Excellent points about character goals and motivation. No one wants to read about someone who just let's the world define who she is.

Tasha Seegmiller said...

I have had several of my characters doing things just to do them. My CP's just pointed out that I needed more reasons for several of them. Great post.

Michelle Dennis Evans said...

Thank you Peggy! Just last night I was working on a dull chapter... Where my mc is like a ship without a rudder... She's meant to be... But now I see how to tweak it to bring the chapter back to life.... Intro a goal. :)

Peggy Eddleman said...

Iain-- Aww, Iain! Your comment got me RIGHT HERE. Thank you.

Clarissa-- Yes! Goals all around!

Bea-- Thanks!! I hope you have a fabulous day, too.

Kelley-- Thanks for understanding. :D And you're welcome!

Melanie-- Oh, yay! I love when I post something someone needed to hear. Makes me smile. :D

Connie-- I never write scenes just to keep writing, but I am IN LOVE with that idea! I'm going to have to try that out.

Prerna-- Those extra eyes are lifesavers! I definitely couldn't live without mine.

Tonja-- Oh, interesting! Maybe B's don't make for MC's. I've never thought about that before. I do think, though, that some people tend to be goal-centered, and their goals are very spelled out. I don't think that Bs are precluded from having goals, though. They just aren't as spelled out. More like a "I have to find this person!" Or a "I have to get to this place!" kinds of things.

Angela-- It's amazing what a few well placed goals can accomplish, isn't it? :D

Shelly-- Awww! Thank you! That's so very sweet!

Jenny-- So very cool! I hope you find exactly what it needs.

Leigh-- I know! SO MANY THINGS. That's why several rounds of revisions are so important! And sigh. The clone would've been awesome.

Patti-- Very well said!

S.P.-- Crit groups FTW! And yeah. I hate when a character is totally defined by their world. Not nearly as fun to read as someone who makes things happen!

Tasha-- Ooo! Good point! And best of luck with working through the reasons!

Michelle-- A rudderless ship can still have goals, right? ;)

Carrie Butler said...

You know what I love about goals? How they seem to evolve as the character grows. :)

P.S. We understand. (Yes, I have volunteered to speak for everyone.) Take all the time you need!

The Golden Eagle said...

Goals are definitely important!

Jaye Robin Brown said...

Do you remember all those WWJD bracelets and t-shirts a few years ago? Well I'm constantly asking, What would MC do? And why? And because? Because why is a good question too even if grammatically a little wonky.

Lynn(e) Schmidt said...

I am a huge advocate for goals, to the point the other day an instructor and I were talking, and I mentioned goal setting and he was like "Lynne, this is where we differ...I don't like goals."

Glad someone else believes in them, too :)

Also, I'm glad you're not dead :)

Cassie Mae said...

I love this! We all know that the mc needs to get to point A to point B... but WHY??? Great thing to keep in mind when you reach those chapters that seem to not go anywhere :)

Angela Brown said...

There's always the question of how to address the dreaded "sagging middle". Well, given all the lengthy explanations, yours if rather poignant and straight-forward.

Goals! Darn it! Goals

Thank you.

Imogen said...

Forget about the characters for the moment. I need goals. Ha, disorganised much? How about my goal be writing, not thinking about it?

Anyway, yes, must remember goals for characters. I'm blushing now just thinking about the goals I haven't given yet. Must run and fix that now.

Kristin Baker Przybyla said...

I needed to see this! I've just finished a chapter that seems to be dragging. I need to go back and see if my character hasn't lost sight of her goal. Thanks!

Jade Hart said...

I totally agree Peggy. I'm half way into my MS and although I love the story and I'm practically murdering my MC, I don't know if her goals are coming across strong enough. Thank heaven for CP's who point out the weaknesses. I suck at editing my own work!

Susanna Leonard Hill said...

Excellent reminder - especially about chapter to chapter! And I never get your posts until a full day after they've posted, but I'm glad to know in advance you won't be dead :)

Deana said...

I always need a reminder of these things, so thanks. I did the same thing as you once with the whole natural disaster, goal lost type deal. It is hard to stay focused sometimes when all the craziness is happening. But it is so worth it if you can stay focused:)

Shallee said...

Funny how even though we KNOW something, we can forget it in context of our story. Yea for crit partners-- and reminders!

And I just have to say, I watched a movie the other night where the protag had NO GOALS. AT ALL. He just wandered around doing what everybody told him to. I nearly threw a pillow at the TV.

Emily R. King said...

In my mind, plot is equivalent with growth. Everything that happens to my characters should lead them toward chnage. If the conflict doesn't either help explain why they are the way they are, or stimulate change, it shouldn't be in the plot. I want to see growth! Goals are important, too, but growth is key!

Jessie Humphries said...

Oh no! Were you talking about my book? I better have look at my MC's goals in every chapter.

Paul Tobin said...

You echo something I had realised on my latest story, the thing had ground to a halt and it was due to a lack of goals, the story was going no where so I had to re think the last section. Thanks.

Dawn M. Hamsher said...

Peggy, Can you tell me more about your writing group? I am a part of a Christian writing group, but I also need a fiction writing group that can hold me accountable for chapter after chapter. I might need to start a group here and could use some pointers.

dramadawn[at]embarqmail[dot]com