Writers Write is a comprehensive creating writing resource. In this post, we ask: Do your characters have SMART story goals?
What Is A SMART Goal?
According to Wikipedia, SMART is an acronym used to set objectives. ‘The letters S and M generally mean specific and measurable. …the remaining letters referring to achievable (or attainable), relevant, and time-bound.’
For the purpose of this article, I will use these:
S – specific
M – measurable
A – attainable
R – relevant
T – time-bound
What Are SMART Story Goals?
TIP: The protagonist‘s and antagonist‘s story goals should be in direct conflict with each other. You can even use your antagonist to help you define your story goal.
If you want to write a great book, test their story goals against this acronym.
A good story goal is:
A good story goal should be concrete, not abstract. Your character should pursue a specific, tangible goal.
Use the five Ws to define the goal for your character:
This allows you to plot a book that is filled with movement and conflict.
Readers like to see if there is progress. If you lay out specific criteria, you can measure your character’s path to accomplishing the goal. Is there a plan?
Ask the one H here:
If we know how they will execute their plan, we can measure their success or failure.
It cannot be out of reach. The reader has to believe that this could happen. It cannot be unrealistic. If you want a reader’s buy-in, you have to set a goal that can be realised by the character.
Do your characters have the resources and capabilities to achieve their goals? If they don’t, you may have chosen the wrong characters or the wrong story goals.
It should also be relevant. Ask: Why is my character pursuing this goal? It should be relevant to them as human beings, and it should be believable. They should be motivated to achieve the goal.
This is great for creating tension and getting the reader to turn the page. A ticking clock creates a sense of urgency.
- In Less by Andrew Sean Greer, failed novelist, Arthur Less’s goal is to avoid an ex-boyfriend’s wedding. He does this by accepting invitations to half-baked literary events across the world. It is specific – he even has an itinerary. It is measurable – he travels to each destination and attends the events. It is attainable – he has the invitations and the means to get there. It is relevant – he wants to avoid looking at his failures at the age of 50. It is time-bound – he needs to stay away from home until the date of the wedding.
- In Time and Time Again by Ben Elton, ex-soldier and grieving widower, Hugh Stanton must go back in time to prevent the start of World War I. It is specific – he has to kill Princip before he assassinates Archduke Ferdinand. It is measurable – if he does this, World War I should not start. It is achievable – he is sent back, with all the relevant equipment, by a think tank of the best brains and historians of his time. It is relevant – the present he lives in is a misery and he will change it if he can. It is time-bound – he has a certain amount of time to stop the bullet the started the war.
- In Star Wars, Princess Leia needs to get plans for the Death Star to the Rebels. It is specific and concrete and is met with measurable resistance by Darth Vader and Tarkin. It is measurable – she either manages to get them there or not. It is attainable – in spite of being a prisoner, she gives the plans to R2-D2 who escapes. It is relevant – if she does not do this all hope is lost. It is time-bound – if the Death Star gets to the rebel base before they get the plans everybody will die.
SMART story goals set your characters up for success or failure. SMART goals give them a sense of direction, which helps you to plot.
If you enjoyed this, and want to know more about story goals, read:
- The Story Goal – The Key To Creating A Solid Plot Structure
- 5 Criteria For Creating Successful Story Goals
© Amanda Patterson
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