One of things we learned in the McDaniel program was that many of us, to one extent or another, struggle with some of the same writing issues. One of the earliest elements of our manuscripts we addressed was identifying our protagonists’ goals. While a few of our classmates had chosen concrete, positive, workable goals, many of us were in a very different boat. It was leaky boat with a broken paddle. We agonized and strategized and each of us found (or continue to search for) our own paths to creating strong goals for our characters.
In my WIP, I didn’t just have a negative goal; I had three. In some flash of
insanity brilliance, I had conceived a plot with three protagonists. I knew for purposes of my story that one of the protagonists would take the lead, and in this post I wrote about the difficulty of figuring out my lead was Eileen Parker. Figuring out this important piece of the puzzle was just the beginning.
Eileen’s goal, early on, was to keep the status quo. As the story opens, she has learned that her abusive ex-husband is getting paroled from prison. He wants to reunite with Eileen, but she wants none of it. In the beginning of the writing process, her goal was to keep her life as-is, as it has been since she got away from Jim. But how does that story end? If the heroine achieves her goal, it means she will be in the same place at the end of the book as she was in the beginning. What’s the point of reading about that?
So I started working on her goal. Something concrete. Something positive. And in fact, I could come up with a number of things that Eileen would want: a safe home (to keep out her ex-husband Jim), her own car restoration business (she loves American classic cars and has restored her own ’67 Mustang convertible), and a dating life (she’s been gun-shy and hasn’t gotten past a first date in the past two years). I went from no concrete, positive goals for Eileen to three of them.
Going back to Debra Dixon’s goal, motivation, and conflict that we’ve discussed on the blog many times before, these three elements of a character’s journey should complement each other. I didn’t yet know Eileen’s goal, and until I knew that I couldn’t know what her antagonist (ex-husband Jim) would do to block her goal and create the conflict. But I did know what motivates Eileen. After a few years of living with a man who controlled her life, Eileen is motivated by being in charge of her own destiny. I also knew other things about Eileen. She’s a former professor, so she is used to writing lesson plans. She’s now a business woman, hoping to launch an entrepreneurial venture, so she understands writing a business plan. In Eileen’s experience, to get from point A to point B, having a plan is a necessity.
That’s when I realized that Eileen has a plan, a three-pronged plan. In her mind, no one piece of it is more important than the others. So her goal isn’t to achieve one of these things; it’s to achieve all three. Finally, I knew Eileen’s goal – to complete her three-pronged plan. The plan can support what truly motivates her, which is to be in charge of her own destiny. Her ex-husband’s goal of winning back her back and re-exerting his control over her is in direct conflict with her goal.
The last step in determining whether accomplishing her plan would be the best goal for Eileen was building a conflict box to see whether I had a conflict lock – in other words, that Jim’s actions based on his goal would block Eileen’s actions based on her goal, and vice versa. I built the box, got the conflict lock, and finally had a positive and concrete goal for Eileen, a goal important enough for her to fight hard, and then to fight harder, and even fight to the point of death (physical or emotional) to achieve it.
Now that the first draft is finished, I’m taking the much-needed break from it before printing it out in hard copy, reading it, and devising my own plan for revising the manuscript. But I already know that one of the most important aspects of the rewrite will be ensuring Eileen’s (and Maddie’s and Sarah’s) goals drive the story. And remain in conflict with their respective antagonists. And intertwine and overlap and bolster each others’ stories. And…and…and… It’s going to be a long revision.