Who are you and what do you want?
I’m reading a fantastic book right now in my personal life – Mark Batterson’s All In: You Are One Decision Away From a Totally Different Life I heard him speak at the ReWrite Conference this past February and the book’s message and timing in my life is spectacular. It talks about going “all in” for God – but also, the power of devotion to something.
“When your life is over, the world will ask you only one question: ‘Did you do what you were supposed to do?’” That’s not just a good question. That’s the question. Did you do what you were supposed to do? It cannot be answered with words. It must be answered with your life.” (Mark Batterson, All In)
So, in other words, a GOAL.
Last week, I talked about nailing the Character Change journey (http://learnhowtowriteanovel.com/blog/2015/04/13/extreme-character-makeover-nailing-the-character-change-journey/) and how a great novel is about the character, and how the plot affects him to change and grow.
We talked about the Story Equation, a tool we use at MBT to understand our character and get the plot on the page, and how it all starts with asking WHO is our character. Which then leads, eventually, to a Dark Moment Story – that pivotal story in your character’s past that shaped him and made him into the person he is as he walks on the page.
But we’re not done. See, to create a great story, your character needs a GOAL. Why? Because if he has a goal, then the author can create obstacles to that goal, both internal (fears, lies) and external (flaws, villains, etc.). And it’s the intersection of a Goal and an Obstacle that make good tension, right?
Almost. Behind every good Goal is two things: A WANT and a WHY. See, a character without a strong WHY behind their goal will fold at the first sight of an obstacle. They need the WHY to power up their actions. And the WHY causes the WANT, that formless desire that then translates into an external GOAL.
WHY + WANT = GOAL
Our family, being Vikings (our school mascot, our MN Football team, our heritage) loves the show VIKINGS. Yes, there are times when I have to walk out of the room, but it’s an interesting show rife with character layers.
(*spoiler alert!* If you are also a fan and haven’t seen last week’s episode, stop reading here)
In recent episodes, King Ragnar has decided to attack Paris. Why? Because a monk he captured in season 1, and with whom he became great friends, cast a vision about the magnificence of Paris. Ragnar became obsessed with seeing Paris.
Ragnar was devastated, took the monk’s cross off him, and began wearing it as he marched off to Paris.
Three episodes later, the Vikings have tried, twice, unsuccessfully, to capture Paris. Ragnar has been seriously wounded, nearly lost his son and his brother and has sacrificed over 1000 of his men. Still, he is undeterred in his quest.
By this time, the audience (me) is thinking – dude, it’s not worth it. I’ve been to Paris, and yes, while it’s pretty awesome, it’s not worth losing your life and your son’s life. Go home already!
The Parisians are starving, so they send terms out to Ragnar – we’ll give you gold and riches to go away.
Ragnar seems undeterred. . .and I’m baffled. Until he sneaks off to meet with them, and we discover what’s driving all this. His WANT and his WHY.
He’s dying. And he, more than anything, longs to be reunited with his monk buddy. But they have different gods, different heavens, so, in a crazy unpredictable twist, Ragnar agrees to leave Paris alone if he is. . .wait for it. . .BAPTIZED. Ragnar wants to become a Christian (sorta. Let’s not go overboard here).
That’s what’s been driving his relentless pursuit of Paris.
In other words, Ragnar went all in to attack Paris, with the goal of being reunited with his buddy in heaven. Why? Because out of all his henchmen, wives, children and kingdom, (and because he’d been betrayed in some way by them all,) the monk proved to be his most trustworthy friend.
Simplified: WHY – true friendship (something that often eludes a King). WANT – to be reunited in heaven. GOAL – take Paris and be baptized by their church.
Now, it makes sense.
Does your character’s goal make sense? Is it fueled by the secret sauce of Motivation: The Why and a Want?
This weekend, best-selling novelist Steven James and I chatted about about storycrafting principles on his awesome new show, The Story Blender. We talked about how to get into character, connecting with the reader, common mistakes of first time authors, and how to bring your writing to the next level. We also touched on how to create powerful tension and put together all the key pieces to powerful storytelling.
Most importantly, we talked about creating powerful character emotions and tension by understanding what drives your character.
(you can download/listen to it here: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/suspensemagazine/2015/04/18/the-story-blender-with-special-guest-susan-may-warren)
If you want to nail the character change journey, you need to give your Character an Extreme Character Makeover, starting with the Dark Moment Story and ending up with a powerful Why + Want = Goal. Because once you have the goal, you can really start having some fun. (insert tension here!)
Go! Write something Brilliant!
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