Friday, October 13, 2017

Day Thirteen: Idea to Novel Workshop: Determining Your Goals

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Welcome to Day Thirteen of Fiction University’s At-Home Workshop: Idea to Novel in 31 Days. For the rest of the month, we’ll focus on plot and the major turning points of a novel.

Today, it’s all about the goals that will drive your plot.

Determine Your Goals

Goals are the driving force of the novel. The protagonist (or protagonists in multiple-point-of-view novels) wants something. Probably a lot of somethings. Some of them will be small, like finding something to eat; others will be huge, like stopping a terrorist attack on the White House. Whatever they are, these goals will determine how the protagonist acts, and that will determine how the novel unfolds.

Goals are at the center of every scene in the novel, and there are a variety of goal levels. Individual scene goals, larger chapter goals, personal character goals, story goals, and plot goals. For now, let’s focus on the broader novel-developing type of goals. Story and plot goals.

What makes plotting tough is that vague thematic statements like, “find love again” or “learn to trust others,” are great story goals (and good for internal character arcs), but unhelpful plot goals. Think of it like this: Go out right now and find love again. Um, you can’t, not really. It’s not like “love again” is something you can go get at the store. But you can act in a way that will help you find love again, such as go to a museum and talk to cute guys.

The external physical goal (plot) is “go to the museum and talk to cute guys.” That’s something a protagonist can do to move the plot forward. Internally (character arc), she hopes one of those cute guys will be the love of her life.

That’s why trying to plot with only story goals can leave us hitting a plot wall at page one hundred. We know conceptually what we want our protagonist to do, but there’s no concrete, actionable plan to follow. No plot goals to get her there.

What Are Your Story Goals?

Story goals are the larger thematic goals that describe the character growth or the idea behind the novel. They’re more conceptual and work as guides to determine the types of plot goals the protagonist will encounter. Knowing that the protagonist wants to find love helps figure out the types of things to do to achieve that goal. You need to know what your protagonist wants before you develop the steps she’ll take to get it, and then you can figure out the internal story goal to give her reasons to strive for that external plot goal.

Why story goals are important: They represent the internal conflicts and the emotional needs of the characters.

For example:
To find love again after a bad breakup (this is what the story is about, and the plot will focus on the external steps needed to achieve this)

What Are Your Plot Goals?

Plot goals are the physical things the protagonist does to achieve those more lofty story goals. They’re the choices she makes and the things she does to help her achieve her dreams. “Being hungry” is an internal want (a story goal) but “getting up and making a sandwich” is an external goal (a plot goal), though granted, not a very exciting one. But there’s no reason for the protagonist to get up and make a sandwich if she’s never hungry in the first place.

Why plot goals are important: Plot goals give the protagonist something to do and help drive the novel to the climax. They make readers feel like the novel is progressing and moving toward a resolution.

For example:
Go to the museum and talk to cute guys (this is part of the plot, one step that will allow the protagonist to find love, which is her story goal and motivation for acting).
The story goal is an end desire, and the plot goals are the steps that will get the protagonist to that end desire.

Here are some questions to explore possible character goals:

1. What does your protagonist want?

2. What is your protagonist willing to do to get that want?

3. What are some possible goals (and steps) the protagonist might take to get that want?

Unless you have very clear ideas already on how you want your plot to unfold and what those goals are, feel free to brainstorm and explore as many goals and possibilities as you want here. Try out multiple goal options until you find the path that fits your story best.

EXERCISE: What are the story and plot goals of your protagonist and antagonist?

In many cases, this will be a more defined version of the idea you wrote down on Day One or Day Three. Maybe you only had a general idea then, but now you can see the special goals and actions the protagonist needs to take to achieve that dream.

There’s no right length for these. If you can capture the heart and soul of your goals in a few sentences, great. If it takes you several pages of detailed information, also great. It’s about what you need to know to write this story.

Those following along with the PYN book: Workshop Five goes into more detail on plotting, finding goals for your characters, and developing a strong story structure to put those goals into.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at discovering your story’s conflict.

Follow along at home with the book, Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure. Get more brainstorming questions and things to think about, in-depth articles, and clear examples of every step from idea to novel.

Paperback: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indie Bound  | Google Books | Books-A-Million | Chapters/!ndio

Ebook: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Overdrive | Kobo | Inktera | Chapters/!ndio

Go step-by-step through plotting and writing a novel. Learn how to find and develop ideas, brainstorm stories from that first spark of inspiration, develop the right characters, setting, plots and subplots, as well as teach you how to identify where your novel fits in the market, and if your idea has what it takes to be a series.

With clear and easy-to-understand examples, Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure offers ten self-guided workshops with more than 100 different exercises to help you craft a solid novel. Learn how to:
  • Create compelling characters readers will love
  • Choose the right point of view for your story
  • Determine the conflicts that will drive your plot (and hook readers!)
  • Find the best writing process for your writing style
  • Create a solid plot from the spark of your idea
Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure also helps you develop the critical elements for submitting and selling your novel once it’s finished. You’ll find exercises on how to:
  • Craft your one-sentence pitch
  • Create your summary hook blurb
  • Develop a solid working synopsis And so much more!
Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is an easy-to-follow guide to writing your novel or fixing a novel that isn’t quite working. 

Available in paperback and ebook formats.

Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, including The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book.

She also writes the Grace Harper urban fantasy series for adults under the name, J.T. Hardy.

When she's not writing novels, she's teaching other writers how to improve their craft. She's the founder of Fiction University and has written multiple books on writing.
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Indie Bound


  1. I am writing my second book this month in NaNoWriMo. (The first is still in the editing phase). My editor recommended this series to help me. I didn't get to do this before Nano, but am working on a chapter or 2 each evening. I wanted to let you know that this particular chapter gave me a "light-bulb" moment. I was floundering until I got to this chapter. I am also reading your book that I got a few weeks ago. This is awesome. I'm glad my editor recommended you.


    1. I'm so glad to hear this helped you! Best of luck with your NaNo and your novel :)

  2. Janice,

    It's amazing how one word can make all the difference. Goals. What are my characters and story goals. Huge!

    Thanks so much :)