“Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.” – Kurt Vonnegut
Character motivation is the key to great stories. If you think about the stories you love, chances are they’re great because everyone in them has clear goals, dreams and desires. The clashes between these goals, dreams and desires creates conflict.
For example, in Game of Thrones, every character has a clear goal. These goals make each character seem more lifelike. They also give readers a reason to root for each of the characters, which is an impressive feat considering that each book in the series features 10+ point of view characters!
In short, give each of your characters at least one goal. It can be big (i.e. conquer the world) or small (i.e. find a glass a water), but what’s important is that your characters want something.
The number one way to write bad stories is to not give characters goals. This will make your characters seem shallow. It could even lead to some characters existing only to move the plot along – even though they have no reason to do so!
By contrast, giving characters clear goals/motivations has so many benefits, including:
- Great conflict – Through the opposing goals of different characters, you’re guaranteed to create sizzling tension.
- Three-dimensional characters – In real life, people have goals, dreams, wants and desires. By giving characters goals, your characters will feel more lifelike.
- Greater reader sympathy – Readers identify with characters’ wants. This makes it easier for readers to empathise with characters and care about what they do.
List of Common Goals:
TV Tropes has an extensive list of common character goals here. This list also includes examples.
Common character goals could include:
Whenever you’re developing a character, it’s crucial to outline their goal(s). Whether this goal(s) is big or small, it will help flesh out your characters and boost your story’s conflict.
What are your thoughts on character goals? Do all your characters have clear goals? Can you think of a story where characters didn’t have goals? I’d love to hear your thoughts!