What does your character want?
Answering the question what does your character want? is a key element in writing your story. It’s also a relatable element for your reader. Dorothy wants to quit Oz and go home. Westley wants to rescue Buttercup from the clutches of Prince Humperdinck. Jake and Elwood Blues want to get the band back together.
These are all external goals. Equally important is your character’s internal goal, even if he’s not aware of it. Dorothy realizes that despite its beauty and glitz, Oz is a dark place and there’s no place like home. Westley wants to save Buttercup because of true love (“to blave”). Jake and Elwood need the performance money to pay the property taxes on the orphanage where they grew up.
Each external goal should have an internal goal.
Each external goal is linked to an internal goal that drives the character forward. Without the need to fill an internal emptiness, the external goal could be discarded, cheating the reader. If Jake and Elwood just want to make music with their old band mates, is there a story? Inigo without revenge for his father’s death? Pfff, just another drunk who knows how to fence. If the character doesn’t have a deep-seated reason why he’s in the story, is it enough of a story to keep the reader involved?
Each internal goal should have a universal theme
If your character’s internal goal doesn’t touch upon a universal theme, it’s not relatable to your reader. The Wizard of Oz embodies home and family as a constant in our lives. After her trials on the yellow brick road, Dorothy realizes, quite late in the story, that there’s no place like home.
I’m tempted to say The Princess Bride is about true love, but Westley and Buttercup are only two in a colorful cast of characters. Instead, the universal themes are revenge (Inigo), ambition (Humperdinck and Rugen), cunning (Humperdinck and Vizzini), and determination (Westley to make his fortune and to rescue Buttercup, Inigo to find the man who killed his father). Universal themes in spades. Did I miss any?
The Blues Brothers is a tale of redemption as Jake and Elwood set out on a “mission from God” to raise the money for the orphanage that cared for them.
What does your character want?
Make it real. Make it relatable. Put someone (with their own internal goal) in their way to stop them from obtaining their goal. Raise the stakes at every turning point. Westley had the Dread Pirate Roberts, Vizzini, Inigo, Fezzik, Humperdinck, and Count Rugen standing in his way back to Buttercup. Jake and Elwood had Nazis, the Chicago and Illinois State police forces, the Good Ole Boys, AND Carrie Fisher on their tails.
What does your character want? (external goal) Why does he want it? (internal goal) Who or what stops him from getting it? (conflict) If you can answer these three questions, you have the framework for a story your reader will stay with until the last page.
Fun fact: (one hundred and three cars were destroyed in the 1980 Blues Brothers movie, a record smashed and held until its own sequel in 2000 deliberately destroyed one hundred and four)
This post is part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop. Click here to join the hop or follow #AuthorToolboxBlogHop on Twitter to learn more writing tips.