Plays with Words: Setting Goals

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plays with words feature

NaNoWriMo 2014 is now a mere three and a half months away, which means there are only about fifteen weeks before we give our carefully constructed characters their own stories. But in order to do that, we first need to know what they want.

When a new idea pops into my head, it usually pitches itself to me like this:

Character X [does something]and [event]happens, and Character X needs to [do something else]or else [horrible thing here].

Or, to go back to my Little Miss Muffett example from a few weeks ago:

Little Miss Muffett is startled by a spider and drops her curds and whey, and she needs to kill the spider or else go hungry for the rest of the day.

Not only does this provide me a succinct response for when I’m asked about my work by nosy nellies, it’s also how I like to begin plotting a story.

Before I get too far into this process, allow me to post my disclaimer:

The following writing advice/exercises are only my own personal way of preparing for NaNoWriMo and setting up a plot. This is not the only way to plan for NaNoWriMo. If you already have a method that works for you, I’d love to hear about it in the comments because I’m all for learning how other authors write.

Okay, back to plotting.

I know, I know. Lots of people are “pantsers” and prefer to just write until it the story takes shape on its own. I often write this way, too, but, I at least like to know where I’m going. I mean, I’ve spent all this time getting to know my characters; where am I taking them?

In other words, what are their goals?

The Little Miss Muffett story above can be broken out into three acts with different goals (and conflicts) for each of those acts:

Three-Act StructureAct One (the Inciting Incident): Miss Muffett’s goal is to eat her curds and whey (but she is thwarted by the arrival of the spider).

Act Two (the Confrontation): The new goal is to kill the spider (but she discovers the spider is really her younger brother transformed by an evil witch’s spell)

Act Three (the Resolution): Now the goal is to find and kill the witch and restore her brother (but not before there’s a huge battle).

This is a rough overview of how the story would progress, and as you can see, Miss Muffett’s goals change pretty significantly from the first act to the third. And within each act, there should be what I like to call sub-goals, or smaller goals that will help the character achieve the larger goal. And as the character progresses, I find by the end of the story, she no longer wants what she wanted to begin with. (And that’s why the idea that pitches itself to me is very different from the story I’ll eventually write and pitch to my agent.)

So now that you know your character and understand his motivation, set some goals for him. And next time, we’ll talk about conflict and why it’s necessary to make your character miserable before he can achieve his goals.

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About Author

E.M. Caines

E.M. Caines writes as Ella Martin and is the author of Will the Real Prince Charming Please Stand Up?.

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