Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Active Goals

I've realized that I may just have to go with the fact that I function best in "all or nothing" mode and quit trying to do little bits of things at a time. Therefore, I'm devoting the next few days to cleaning/organizing/housework to have it all out of the way, and then I'll get down to writing. The story is brewing in my head, but when I sit down to write, the to-do list pops up in my brain, so I can't concentrate. I think a big flurry of activity in the next few days will get almost all the projects finished. Then it will be down to the professionals I need to call in. And then I might be able to think again.

Now, for a writing post …

As I plot out a book, I've been thinking about character goals. This is a really critical thing to drive a story and the basis of plot -- what does your hero want, why, what's he willing to do to get it, and what's getting in his way? Meanwhile, your antagonist or villain also needs a goal, and preferably one that's at cross-purposes with the hero's goal, so that the things the villain is doing to go after his goal are what's getting in the way of what the hero's doing to go after his goal, and thus we have conflict.

You tend to get a stronger story with a positive goal -- wanting something rather than not wanting something -- and with an active goal instead of a reactive goal -- having something the hero wants to achieve rather than just wanting to stop the villain. That sounds simple, but it isn't really. For one thing, there's probably going to be some element of reaction in a hero's goal in any kind of good vs. evil story because, generally, the good people just want to be living their lives. They're not out looking for adventure. They're minding their own business until the villain shows up to mess things up, and that's what stirs the heroes to take action and restore order. That means that the hero's goal comes down to something negative and reactive -- I don't want the villain to ruin everything.

But there are still ways to turn this situation into a more positive, active goal. Yeah, they want to stop the villain, but they have a specific plan in place for doing so. They're not just reacting to things the villain does. For instance, the heroes in The Lord of the Rings want to stop Sauron, but the goal is to destroy the ring. That puts them in the driver's seat and flips things around so that Sauron's minions have to have the goal of stopping them from destroying the ring. In Star Wars, yeah, the Rebels have the general goal of stopping the evil Empire, but more specifically the goal of the heroes is to get the Death Star plans to the Rebels so they can find a weakness and destroy it. The Empire then is in a position of reacting, of doing whatever they can to stop this from happening.

There's still going to be some reacting as the heroes have to deal with each thing the villain does to try to stop them, but you aren't in the position of the villain driving all the action and the heroes just running around, trying to put out fires as they arise. If the hero's only goal is to stop the villain's evil scheme, then the villain is driving the story and the hero tends to seem to just be fumbling around, reacting to each thing the villain does until finally having a reaction that stops things for good. An active hero will react to the need to stop a villain by coming up with a clear plan with its own goal and then driving toward it, regardless of what the villain is trying to do.

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