Give your hero strong—and deepening—goals

Sometimes writers get lost in poetic descriptions or associative tangents. Sometimes there’s a lot of action in a story, but it’s sequential rather than cumulative.

The cure for all of these ills? Clear goals. The three-act structure works on the principle of clear—and deepening—goals.

Your hero probably doesn’t really have a goal at the beginning of their tale. They are probably stuck in the Ordinary World, vaguely dissatisfied but unable or unwilling to take the kind of risk that would change their life. (Throughout these blog posts, I’m going to regularly refer to the three-act structure, which I outlined at the beginning.)

When the Call to Adventure comes and your hero crosses the first threshold, they are, by definition, pursuing a goal. And, from that point on, they are always pursuing a goal, although their understanding of that goal will deepen as they gain insight.

In Act 2, your hero  pursues what they want.

At the beginning of Act 2 of Some Like It Hot, for instance, Tony Curtis’s character, Jerry, wants to get laid by Marilyn Monroe’s character, Sugar Kane. Jerry comes very close to success. (Who could forget the steamy scene on the yacht or Sugar’s brain-melting dress?)

Jerry’s goal deepens, however: he starts to really care for Sugar. His goal adjusts: he wants to win this girl’s heart, but he fears she won’t love him if she finds out that he’s not the millionaire that he has been pretending to be.

In the Act 2 Culmination, Jerry fails to reach his goal. Pursued by the mob, he has to flee. Rather than revealing his true identity as a two-bit saxophone player, he abandons Sugar and breaks her heart, as well as his own.

Then, in Act 3, Jerry pursues what he needs: full and honest love with Sugar. Having evaded the mob, he tells Sugar the truth. She loves him anyway and they head off into the sunset.

So Jerry initially wants sex, but comes to understand that he needs love. As his insight deepens, his goals adjust. And he is always, ALWAYS pursuing a goal.


About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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