5 Criteria For Creating Successful Story Goals

5 Criteria For Creating Successful Story Goals

In this post, we detail the five criteria writers need for creating successful story goals.

‘In nearly all good fiction, the basic – all but inescapable – plot form is this: A central character wants something, goes after it despite opposition, perhaps including his own doubts, and so arrives at a win, lose, or draw.’ ~John Gardner

How do you know if your story goal is good enough to support your entire novel?

In last week’s post, The Story Goal, I discussed what a story goal is and the importance of this goal. Remember what we said in the post?

“To define a story goal a character needs:

  1. to get something physical.
  2. to cause something physical.
  3. to escape something physical.
  4. to resolve something physical.
  5. to survive something physical.”

This week, I want to give you a checklist to find out if you have a good enough story goal.

5 Criteria For Creating Successful Story Goals

1.  Possession Of

Your protagonist must try to gain possession of something – an object, a person, or information.

Example:  Brad, who is trying to rescue his kidnapped daughter, wants possession of his child.

2.  Relief From

Your protagonist must try to gain relief from something tangible – a threat, an object, a person, an animal, or a condition such as oppression or persecution, and relief from something emotional – fear, pain, sadness, despair.

Example: Brad needs relief from the kidnapper’s demands and relief from his feelings of pain, fear and despair.

3.  Terrible Consequences If

Your protagonist must face terrible consequences if he fails to achieve his story goal.

Example: If Brad fails, he will never see his child again.

4.  A Worthy Motivation For

Your protagonist must have a worthy motivation for pursuing his goal. These could include duty, freedom, love, honour, justice, dignity, integrity, redemption, self-respect, and survival.

Example: Brad is motivated by love, duty, and the survival of his daughter.

Note: Soft emotions like kindness and generosity do not work. Neither do negative emotions like lust, envy, anger, greed, pride, and hatred. Revenge is interesting. Readers have trouble sympathising with a protagonist whose sole goal is to get even. The way to make this work is when the justice system has failed to punish someone who really deserves to be punished.

5.  Face Tremendous Odds

Your protagonist must face tremendous odds. It should appear impossible for your protagonist to achieve this goal.

Example: Brad will have to track a criminal, deal with law enforcement, handle his family’s pain and test his bravery.

In Conclusion:

If your story goal is a physical goal and if it meets these five criteria, you will have a solid plotting foundation for your novel.

by Amanda Patterson
© Amanda Patterson

If you enjoyed this post, read:

  1. The Story Goal – The Key To Creating A Solid Plot Structure
  2. Proust’s Questionnaire – 35 Questions Every Character Should Answer
  3. Word Counts – How long should your novel be?
  4. 10 Things To Stop Doing To Yourself As A Writer
  5. The Nine Types of Unreliable Narrator

Top Tip: If you want to learn how to write a book, sign up for our online course.

Posted on: 17th April 2015