|Does Roxie Hart have a dream?|
You bet she does!
Wait! That's a very good question.
Can the audience connect to my main character?
This question should be one of your main priorities when first setting out to write your story. Because, after all, we've read many of those "misses" of novels that never quite create a believable main character. But how do we create something that sounds so easy, but in reality can become a real time-suck?
The answer to this question is GOAL. Characters, in any given genre, need to have a GOAL. If I asked you, "What's your main character's goal?" in the story you're writing right now, my hope is that you can tick it off to me in ten seconds. If it takes you a lot longer and leads to a lot of unnecessary rambling, then you might want to stop right here and rethink your project.
Goals can be as varied as the day is long, but what most of them boil down to are two things:
First, we need to make sure the main goal of our main character (i.e. the person who goes through the most change) gets added early on in the story. Your audience needs to see this goal, don't keep it to yourself and then SURPRISE! look what I've sprang on the reader. That goal needs to be your main character's primary concern throughout the story. Don't do something stupid and make the death toll or the number of crashed cars more interesting than your character's goal. This goal you've created needs to connect to the theme of your story, and run through the entirety of the storyline -- from beginning to end.
As to who should change the most throughout the story, it's best if you know who that is early on. Most novelists start with a main protagonist and then before long get lost on the bunny trails of writing. Try to keep your MC on the right goal-oriented path from beginning to end.
The protagonist or opposing character is more than welcome to have a goal as well. And this is how you figure out the ending of your novel. Two things can happen in the end:
- The MC realizes his/her goal, change has occurred, and the opposition has been vanquished.
- The MC fails to realize his/her goal, change has still occurred on some level, and, unfortunately, the opposition has won out in the end.
Since films are more easily relatable for a large audience, let's take a look at a few. All films usually show the goal of the main character and all goal realizations occur early on in the storyline.
|All Inman wants to do is get his butt home and see Ada.|
Does he realize his dream?
COLD MOUNTAIN -- Down to its bones, Cold Mountain is more of a love story than anything else. Inman wants nothing more than to return to his beloved hometown and the lovely Ada he hopes is still waiting for him. Ada longs for Inman to return someday, but she also has to learn how to survive on her own once her father passes away. Right from the start, the audience is shown what could eventually turn out to be a passionate affair between Inman and Ada, but will have to wait until the end of the film to see if anything develops. Plus, this is one of those stories where, in a sense, the antagonist wins out with the death of Inman. (Films with similar story structure: The Mexican, The English Patient, Gone with the Wind, and Doctor Zhivago.)
|Will Kathleen and Joe ever get along long|
enough to fall in love?
YOU'VE GOT MAIL -- One of many movies with the romance story structure. Kathleen Kelly and Joe Fox fall in love with each other long before they ever meet. The goal of each character is shown early on through the exchanged anonymous emails. Kathleen is finding some sort of fulfillment with her anonymous email partner that she can't seem to find with the real man in her life, Frank. But, of course, per the rules of rom-com films, when Kathleen finds out Joe is behind the emails -- the man trying to shut down her little book store -- a rift forms and the two eventually have to find their way back to one another. But the goal for Kathleen to find love is always there throughout the story arc. In the end, it's both the protagonist, Kathleen, and the antagonist, Joe, who change and find what they're looking for. (Similar films: Notting Hill, Pretty Woman, French Kiss, and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.)
Here's my challenge to you: Next time you sit down to watch a movie or pick up a good book to read, see if you can spot the goal and see if the writer follows through! After all, like Roxie Hart above, all characters have some sort of dream to fulfill!
Can you think of any films or books where the MC's goal isn't very clear? How about one where the goal is never realized? Or better yet, one where the opposition wins out in the end?