Having a story goal is paramount to a successful story. Without one, you may have a book but you do not have a story. It gives your characters reason to do what they do, AND it gives you, the writer, a target that propels your story forward and gives it meaning – a reason for being. Granted, you are first and foremost writing with the purpose to entertain, but without a goal, your novel will struggle to be entertaining. It will be a series of non-events that are happening for absolutely no reason, with nothing at stake. Who cares? Your story goal gives your reader a reason to care.
This is probably not news to most writers – but, as a writer myself, I am all too aware of how easy it is to lose focus on the end goal. I will be the first to admit that I have made my characters do stuff just for the sake of it, perhaps to fill out some time or add words. If what you write doesn’t serve any purpose, you need to think whether it should even be there at all.
So, what if I told you that a brief and simple framework is all that is needed to keep focused and ensure that everything that happens (within reason) serves a purpose in creating entertaining fiction and reaching the story’s end goal? It works for me so it may well do the trick for you too. I will explain it below.
The framework itself
I shall use my own story as an example but I have changed the character’s names because they are top secret 😉 . For me, using this framework comes firstly at the stage where I am planning my scenes and writing my scene list.
So, first I start by writing my scene outline.
Then I fill in the following framework. (I don’t actually go to the lengths of printing it out and filling it in by hand, this is just to show you guys more clearly. Usually, it is just part of the word doc like this.
And there you have it. I then have a document with a list of scenes that I will use as the basis of my writing and at later stages as part of my editing process. At the editing stage, I plan on using this framework as a way to cut the rubbish, and ensure what stays is concise, justified and relevant.
Don’t get me wrong, I often go completely away from the plan, cut scenes or find myself adding random ones in. And sometimes, I don’t even finish a scene list for my act properly before I begin to write. It can get a little tiresome, and this is okay. This framework is merely a guide, there to be referred too when focus is lost or the end goal briefly forgotten.
Useful info to put the framework into context
To those of you who are experienced writers, the framework is pretty self explanatory. For those of you who are new to the writing world, it may help for me to recap two topics that may be useful to give this framework context in order to explain it further:
- The type of writer that may find the framework useful
- A recap on ‘goals’
1. The kind of writer you are is likely to affect whether or not this framework is useful to you.
Ingermanson and Economy explain four types of planners in their amazing book Writing Fiction For Dummies. It has been a God-send! In reference to their book, the way that I like plan is a hybrid of ‘the Snowflake Method’, ‘Outlining’ and ‘Seat of the Pants’ (I think).
The general steps I follow when planning are:
- Figure out the general storyline and characters.
- Write a scene list for act one. (Again, Ingermanson and Economy do a wonderful job at explaining in depth, what a scene list is and how to use it. They cover it in Chapter 9 of their book.)
- Write act one
- Write a scene list for act two
- Write act two
And so on until I finish writing all three acts and therefore finish my first draft. I will then go back and edit it like crazy.
If you plan in a similar way to me, and in particular use scenes lists, I think the framework could be useful to you. If you tend to just get straight into writing with minimal planning, the framework (or something similar) may still be useful when it comes to editing. It’s a case of finding what works for you.
2. Next, let’s revisit some of my previous words to do with goals, what they are and what they do. Goals are crucial in understanding the framework itself (taken directly from this article).
” There are three kinds of goals; story goals life goals and scene goals.
The story goal is what the protagonist wants the most and the problem that he needs to solve. This could be an external physical achievement such as graduating, or internal such as a change of mind-set or attitude.
The story goal does not only affect the protagonist. it is likely to affect the rest of the characters too. For example, if the protagonists goal is to save the life of his wife, but he fails, her family, friends and children will also suffer the consequences. When the stakes are high, the readers care more about whether he achieves it.
The life goals of the characters can be totally separate to the story goal. For example, the protagonists story goal is to save the life of his wife but his life goal is to become a professional trapeze artist. He has ambitions and goals that make him a memorable and realistic character. He is living in a multi-dimensional world with hopes and dreams of his own before the first disaster strikes. Additionally they can be a huge part of the story. The life goals of a character can be the same as the story goal, be linked in some way, OR work against the story goal. All of this is up to you to decide.
Each scene within a story must have a purpose. This is where scene goals come in. In each scene your character must want something, which is then met with conflict. Each scene acts as a step towards the story goal.”
For the framework, the two most pertinent goals are:
- the story goal (obviously)
- the scene goals (the stepping stones to the story goal)
Your characters life goals may also be important if:
- they are in conflict with your story goal
- they are linked to, or the same as, your story goal
so bear this is mind when applying the framework to your own story.
To recap on my words from earlier, if you use scene lists as part of your planning/writing process, you may find the framework beneficial. If you plan in a totally different way, or don’t plan at all, you may still be able to find some value in the framework or an adapted version of it – at the editing stage perhaps. Being the pernickety person I am, I use the framework on a scene to scene basis, however, you could ask yourself similar questions for each chapter, act or just for those times where you are lost and need a little guidance. However you choose to use it, I’d love to hear how you get on!
Until next time – Becca