The Goal, Motivation, Conflict, and Need by Kat Caldwell
Are you stuck with your story? Are you wanting to write another? Have your character’s fallen flat or your plot line stopped short?
Time to return to the Goal, Motivation, Conflict and Need of the story.
I’d like to welcome Kat Caldwell, author, podcast host, and helper of writers everywhere to make a blog post and help you answer these questions today. On to Kat…
First up, we go back to the main character’s goal (sometimes called want or desire).
When we talk about the MC’s goal, we’re talking about what they are striving for right before the book opens.
What do they want in life?
In The Hunger Games, Katniss’s goal is to feed her family and keep them safe. She considers herself the head of the family and sees this as her duty.
This goal pushes her towards the decision she makes at the inciting incident: to sacrifice herself when her sister is chosen to fight.
When considering a goal for your MC, make sure that it means something to them. That it’s a very significant goal for them right now.
FYI: Once they get this goal, they can absolutely decide it isn’t what they want or what they need.
The motivation we talk about is the reason behind striving towards their goal.
The motivation is how they will accomplish the goal or it’s their why for the goal. This motivation cannot be a secret to the MC.
They must be conscious of it.
In Bridgerton, Daphne knows perfectly well that she wants to get married and have a family (goal) because it is her duty and because she loved growing up in a large family (motivation).
The MC’s need is slightly different from their goal in that it’s an internal change that is needed.
I like to ask, “What do they need to change to become a slightly better human by the end of the story?”
Since they aren’t perfect, the MC has a world view that causes them to hurt the people they love. By figuring out their need and changing it, they learn to hurt those around them less.
For example: In The Lincoln Lawyer, Mickey is constantly hurting his ex-wife Maggie by swinging his defensive tactics around her or using her for them. (And those of us watching roll our eyes at Maggie… or is that just me?).
Or: in The Break-Up, Gary has to learn to be less self-centered and put other’s wants and needs ahead of his if he ever hopes to keep a girl (and keep the family business alive).
We take these three, goal, motivation, and need and we use them to create real conflict.
Conflict can be outer (using the goal and motivation) or inner (using the need). I’m often asked if a story has to have conflict and my answer is always a resounding yes.
Without conflict, there’s no story.
No good story, anyway. I have tossed many books aside because every time the author put a conflict in front of the MC, they were so morally good and sweet that all they had to do was tiptoe over it and voila, the conflict dissipated into thin air leaving me (the reader) wholly unsatisfied. Ick.
We come to stories to see how other people are going to react to situations.
What would the story be if in Guardians of the Galaxy Star Lord was a completely mature, wise middle-aged man who had accepted his fate to float around space the rest of his life?
The answer is: nothing.
There would be no story. Not one worth watching, anyway. He not only has to have a goal but also a need in order for the story to have conflict.
To find conflict in your story ask yourself, “What is the opposite of the MC’s goal?” or “What will happen if they don’t get their goal?”
As the same for the MC’s need. Then connect your answers to the plot by asking: “What or who can I throw in my MC’s way to make achieving their goal or overcoming their need difficult?”
Want more about GMCN? Listen to my podcast this week by clicking here.
About the Author
Kat is a fiction writer, an Author Accelerator book coach and hostess of the Pencils&Lipstick podcast. Her passion is to help writers write their story through encouragement and honing their storytelling skills. In between conducting interviews for the Pencils&Lipstick podcast and writing her next novel, you can find Kat traveling the world, reading, or volunteering with her church — always with a cup of cold brew close by. You can find out more about Kat on her website https://katcaldwell.com and follow her on Instagram @katcaldwell.author.
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