Today, I’m lucky enough to share with you a guest post from a very talented writer and blogger, Lewis Jorstad. Please check out the rest of his work at, The Novel Smithy and enjoy his post on how to choose a story goal for your hero!
Writing a novel is a balancing act.
On the one hand, you need a riveting plot, full of action and intrigue that keeps readers glued to the page. At the same time though, you also need vibrant characters. These characters are those that grow and change as your story develops, complete with their own personalities, desires, and fears.
To make things even more complicated, both your plot and cast should be connected—specifically through your protagonist. This hero is the central pillar of your story, meaning every decision they make needs to be linked to your plot. As they evolve, so too will your novel’s conflicts, challenges, and trials. Without them to drive your story forward, you won’t have much of a story at all.
Fortunately, I have good news! What if your plot and hero were already connected?
Believe it or not, there’s a simple ingredient that links these two halves of your story, one you might be using without even realizing it—and that is the story goal. So, in this article, let’s explore exactly what the story goal is, how it shapes your hero’s journey, and how youTweet
What is the Story Goal?
The story goal is a fairly easy concept:
- The Story Goal: This is the primary objective or outcome your character is trying to achieve throughout your novel. Their story goal is what motivates them to take action.
Whatever this goal is, it is intrinsically tied to your plot. Your character’s story goal forces them to engage with your novel’s conflict in the first place, and it’s why they’ll keep moving forward even when their journey gets hard.
Though all characters have some kind of story goal, this is especially important for your protagonist. For example, consider Katniss Everdeen’s struggle to survive in The Hunger Games or Hiccup’s fight to gain his tribe’s respect in How to Train Your Dragon. Each of these heroes is motivated by a clear story goal, and that goal sticks with them throughout their adventure. Though they pursue smaller goals in specific scenes, that main desire is always pushing them forward.
This story goal will also tie into your plot.
Once your protagonist achieves their story goal, the plot of your novel typically ends. Katniss triumphs as the winner of the games, and is thus allowed to go home. Meanwhile, Hiccup defeats the Alpha Dragon, bringing peace to his tribe and becoming a respected leader. As each of these characters realizes their story goal, they also overcome the major crossroads of their story.
Creating an Active Story Goal
Based on our examples, you might notice that both of these heroes have to work to achieve their goals. This is a big part of writing a strong story goal, and it all comes down to the importance of action.
The best story goals are those that are active in nature, meaning your character isn’t just reacting to outside events. Instead, they have some desire in mind, and are working to achieve that result. A great way to visualize this (courtesy of Kristen Kieffer over at Well-Storied) is through a four-part formula:
“Character + Goal + Conflict = Plot”
Though simple on the surface, this combination of a clear story goal and difficult obstacles creates a hero who remains an active player in their story. Rather than waiting for events to happen to them, they have a reason to face your plot head on—sparking an engaging and exciting adventure!
5 Tips for Choosing a Solid Story Goal
With how important your hero’s story goal is, it’s no wonder that carefully choosing one is such a big part of the writing process. With so many important roles to play, you’ll want to ensure their goal is clear, powerful, and meaningful to both them and your novel itself.
Not every story goal will be a good fit for every hero.
A lot of factors will affect your hero’s story goal, from their personality to the specifics of your novel’s plot. So, with that in mind, here are a few tips for choosing the right story goal for your hero.
#1: Consider Their Personality
No matter what type of novel you’re writing, your protagonist’s story goal should be influenced by their identity, backstory, and inner struggle, along with things like their character arc. This ensures their goal feels like a natural fit, rather than an artificial addition.
To help with this, consider these questions:
- What does your hero fear most?
- What might they do to avoid this fear?
- Are they seeking answers, and if so, what for?
- What do they feel they’re responsible for?
- What do they want to change about their world?
- What cause are they fighting for?
- Do they have a dream they want to achieve?
#2: Choose Concrete Goals
Alongside tying into who they are, your hero’s story goal should also be concrete.
What do I mean by this? Well, consider the idea of SMART goals, which stands for specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and timely. This is typically discussed up in relation to productivity or business, but it actually applies to your characters too. If you want your protagonist’s story goal to have the right impact, it needs to be a “smart” goal.
For instance, compare these two story goals:
- Become better at soccer
- Become team captain before the soccer season ends
As you can hopefully see, one of these is much stronger than the other. The second of our two examples is specific and includes a clear timeline within which it must be achieved. Because of this, it carries a lot more impact than simply “becoming better at soccer,” and therefore makes for a much better story goal.
#3: Be Patient
Your protagonist’s story goal will be closely linked to your plot—meaning their goal might not be apparent right away.
If you’re familiar with story structure, then you’ll know that your novel’s conflict doesn’t kick into high gear until around 20-25% of the way through your story. This goes for your hero’s goals too. Because their story goal is directly tied to the main conflict of your novel, you often can’t introduce that goal until that conflict is ready.
Of course, how this plays out will depend on your novel. In some cases, your hero will begin their story with a story goal already in mind, but this isn’t a firm requirement. Many other heroes (such as Katniss from our earlier example) have no idea what their future holds, and thus only realize their story goal once their adventure begins.
Either way, try to establish your protagonist’s story goal by the First Plot Point, it not sooner.
#4: Let Their Goal Evolve
Most story goals remain static for the majority of a hero’s adventure, but this isn’t always the case. Some protagonists shift from one story goal to another as they grow and learn, while others battle between two conflicting goals throughout their character arc.
- Star Wars: A New Hope: Luke is motivated by a desire to defeat the Empire and avenge his family. Luke has one story goal from beginning to end.
- How to Train Your Dragon: Hiccup is motivated by a desire to be accepted as a Viking, and later to be accepted as himself. Hiccup gives up his old story goal for a new goal as he grows.
- Casablanca: Rick is motivated by two conflicting desires: to protect his own interests and to help Ilsa escape the Nazis. Rick struggles between two goals until the end of his story.
With that in mind, don’t be afraid to let your hero’s story goal develop as time goes on! So long as their goal is specific and measurable, it can take any number of forms.
#5: Raise the Stakes
Finally, the best story goals are those that carry clear and personal consequences. These consequences—or stakes—set your hero up for a bad time if they don’t achieve their story goal. As a result, they suddenly have a powerful motivation to succeed. The more extreme your stakes, the more risks your hero will take in order to avoid failure.
This works on your reader too! With the right stakes, readers will stick around to watch your hero’s story unfold, because they know your hero has something to lose.
When combined, I hope these tips help you choose the perfect story goal for your hero, one you’re confident is the right fit for them. Though it might take some careful brainstorming, this story goal will be the guiding star for their adventures—linking your hero and plot into a single, riveting novel!
Lewis Jorstad is an author and developmental editor who helps up-and-coming writers hone their writing craft over at The Novel Smithy. When he isn’t working on the next book in his Writer’s Craft series, you can find him playing old Gameboy games and sailing somewhere around the eastern half of the US. You can also check out his free character creation workbook, and grab a copy for yourself!