While writing a novel, and particularly when we finish a book—especially that first book—there is usually an intense joy and pride and utter feeling of success and accomplishment. Unfortunately, that finished project, that *the end* we type at the bottom of the last page, is really only the beginning. The first draft—sometimes a very rough first draft—needs polishing, rewriting, often (dare I say always?) a professional editing before the reading public takes a look at it.
But there are things we can do ourselves before we start with the actual rewriting, and that is to know as much about our book/plot/character/conflict as we possibly can. It is simple stuff, but if your WIP or WF (work finished) is missing that vital something, that special element that sets it apart from other unpublished books on the market (or hopefully someday on the bookstore shelves) perhaps you’ll spot it here. The better we know our books, the more likely they will interest an agent or editor, and the better they will interest the reading public. Knowing our books well makes us more confident writers, and gives us the self-assurance to approach an agent or editor. And if we discover that we can’t answer a question or two, that is an area of weakness that we can address now, before an agent sees our baby.
06. Primary goals: What is the protag’s (MC – main character’s) primary goal? What is antag’s (BBU – Big Bad Ugly’s) main goal?
We need to remember that, despite what is on the first page, the story itself actually begins the moment the conflict appears. Conflict is all about the needs and wants of the main characters, the MC and BBU. The MC needs to want-desire-need something that is difficult to obtain. Something (the BBU, usually) must be in the way, with goals, aims, needs, and desires of his own. This is conflict.
But, you say, what if the BBU is, for instance, a huge storm (man versus nature)? This *BBU’s needs* concept can be discounted to a large degree. However, in that case, you – the writer – must then want something for the BBU, in the BBU’s stead. You want that storm (or whatever) to destroy the desires of the MC, and you need to craft a story where the storm comes for the MC as if it has a will and desires of its own. It’s a lot less simple and a lot less easy if the BBU is intelligent, and that is this post is about – primary needs and the way they work against each other to create conflict.
We talk about conflict a lot here at MW. Just do a search for conflict. J And yes, this post is about primary goals. But primary and opposing goals always create conflict. The ability to see and state your characters’ primary needs, and how those needs create conflict, can show you a road map to keep the tension building and the conflict sharp.
For the first Jane Yellowrock novel, Skinwalker, Jane’s primary goal is fairly simple at the start of the novel: Take a job and make a good paycheck by tracking down and killing an insane rogue-vampire who was killing and eating people. The nonhuman but intelligent BBU’s primary goal is to find a way to regain his fluctuating and diminishing sanity—find a source of blood that is strong enough to reverse his loss of emotional and mental control. As their primary goals bring them into closer proximity, the conflict and tension ratchet up because the BBU is no unknown subject, but someone who is close to the heart of the hunt.
In the AKA’s (Gwen’s) novel Shadow Valley, the MC, who was beaten, buried in a cairn of rocks, and left for dead, wants to find her daughter, who was kidnapped by the man who hurt her. The BBU wants to keep the girl, force a marriage, and replace his dead wife. This creates conflict: To do reach his goal, the BBU has to escape across the Appalachian Mountains on horseback, girl in tow, outwitting and hiding from the search and rescue groups who chase him, the MC as part of that rescue party.
In Gwen’s novel Delayed Diagnosis, Rhea Lynch, M.D. wants to find what happened to her best friend, who appears to have had a stroke. The BBU wants to keep Rhea away from the victim, so that the doctor can’t discover that it wasn’t a stroke at all, but a premeditated attack. Rhea gets close to the victim, and discovers the truth, which puts her on a collision course with the BBU and danger.
I just stated my character’s primary goals in one or two sentences, and then indicated how those goals created conflict. It’s just another way of looking at my novel.