I got an interesting question the other day on my post about writing multiple points of view. I said, “make sure your cast of characters are all working toward the same goal (even if one of them is working to stop that goal).” Commenter Sam asked...
Does this mean each POV character must have the same story goal?It's a question worthy of a post all its own.
Short answer: No.
Long answer (and probably a much more helpful one):
Characters will have multiple goals in a novel. They'll have scene goals, story goals, conscious goals, unconscious goals, story arc goals, the list goes on. But what will be at the heart of all those goals is the core conflict.
The core conflict is basically the reason the book exists. This is the problem driving the entire story. If it wasn't for this conflict, everyone could go their own separate ways and live happily ever after.
Because it's so vital to the plot, pretty much every other goal in the book is going to relate to the core conflict in some way. Even if it's a small subplot, odds are that subplot can be traced back to it. It's outcome will affect something that will affect that core conflict.
If a character has a goal that doesn't in some way work toward/against this core conflict, it probably doesn't need to be in the book. It doesn't drive the plot, and that's the whole point of goals. It might help show other things, like flesh out a character or provide backstory, but if it's not moving that plot forward odds are it's hurting the pacing and bogging the story down.
For example, let's look at The Lord of the Rings.
The core conflict there: Sauron wants to get the ring and enslave Middle Earth. Everyone else wants to stop Sauron from getting the ring and enslaving Middle Earth. It seems simplistic, but that's the heart of the story. That's what's driving the entire trilogy.
Frodo and his gang wants to destroy it, so they set off on a quest. Strider wants to protect Frodo so he can destroy the ring. Other characters show up to help Frodo. Some of them even get their minds warped and want to take the ring themselves...so they can use it to stop Sauron! Even when they're not acting specifically to "destroy the ring" they're still working to resolve the core conflict. Stopping the bad guy.
Some goals will be subtle, and they might not be as clearly connected as others, but what happens during the resolution of that goal will affect the core conflict in some way. If it doesn't, that's a red flag the subplot or scene isn't connected to the rest of the story and could be leading the story astray.
It never hurts to do a goal check from time to time to ensure your goals are all working together to tell the whole story. You might be surprised how often a solid-feeling goal winds up being something that doesn't actually move the story at all.
Can you pinpoint your core conflict? Are your goals all working together to drive the plot toward this resolution? If not, where do you think you're getting lost?
And now, I'd like to announce the first Surprise Critique Contest! (I warned you I'd do this). Leave a comment in today's post between now and 7am EST tomorrow (Saturday). I'll randomly choose one person and they'll win a 1000-word private critique from me. There's no time limit, and you can send the pages when you're ready.