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June 11, 2019

Writer’s Block? Focus on Stronger Story Goals

Apple on books with text: Deepen Your Craft with Resident Writing Coach Jami Gold (at Writers Helping Writers)

It’s time for another one of my guest posts over at Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi’s Writers Helping Writers site. As one of their Resident Writing Coaches, I’ve previously shared:

With this turn for another coaching article at WHW, I’m taking a look at story goals. We might have heard advice that every scene should include goals for our characters, so goals are obviously important to our story.

Yet surprisingly, goals can sometimes hurt our story. Today over at WHW, we’re exploring that risk: How can we make sure our story’s goals will help—and not hurt—our story?

The Problems of Weak Goals

If we choose weak goals for our story or our characters, we can cause problems for our story—and ourselves. In my post at WHW, I explain what makes goals weak, but I want to dig into here a bit more about how weak goals can hurt not only our story but also our ability to finish the draft.

Do We Know What We’re Writing Next?

One piece of advice I’ve seen before about drafting is to leave a writing session in the middle of a scene. Some authors even recommend finishing a session in the middle of a sentence.

Either way, the reason for the advice is that our next writing session is more likely to go well if we already know what we intend to write about next. If we always leave off in the middle (and don’t forget what we meant to say next *grin*), we can automatically start our next session strong. Hopefully, our momentum from finishing up where we left off would carry over into the next scene and the next.

Along the same lines, we’re less likely to run into writer’s block if we know where our story is going next in general. One way our story helps tell us where it needs to go is with strong goals.

Do Our Characters Know What They Need to Do Next?

If our characters know what they need to do next to try to reach their goal, we’ll have a better starting point in our brainstorming for the next scene. We can either set up their attempt to make progress toward their goal, or we can throw obstacles in their way that will give them new goals to work out first (as they attempt to overcome the obstacles).

If we don't know where our story needs to go next, maybe it's because our characters don't have strong goals... Click To TweetI’ve often talked about how our stories are a cause-and-effect chain, and strong goals help keep that chain taut and give our characters motivation to keep going. Whether our characters gain a step forward or are pushed back by obstacles, strong goals create the concrete Point B for them to aim toward. That path they know they need to follow helps us know what to write next.

So if we’re struggling with ideas for what to write, or if we’re not sure what should happen next in our story, we might want to check our story’s and our characters’ goals. Maybe we can make them stronger, and in the process, help our drafting move forward. *smile*

Writers Helping Writers: Resident Writing Coach Program

Story Goals: Are They Slowing Your Story’s Pace?

Come join me at WHW above, where I’m sharing:

  • the difference between active (strong) and passive (weak) goals
  • how we can recognize weak goals in our writing or story planning
  • a deeper look into how weak goals hurt our story
  • 2 ways that turning weak goals into stronger ones helps us
  • how we can fix weak goals—without throwing our story idea away

P.S. Check my follow up post about how and why weak or passive goals can sometimes be good for our story. And if we’re writing romance or other stories with multiple protagonists, learn how we can have even more flexibility with our characters’ goals. *grin*

Have you thought about how some goals can help our story (and us) more than others? How much do you consciously plan or draft strong goals? Have you ever suffered from writer’s block because you didn’t know where the story needed to go next? Can you think of any examples of weak or strong goals? Do you have any questions about weak or strong goals? (My WHW posts are limited in word count, but I’m happy to go deeper here if anyone wants more info. *smile*)

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Elizabeth Randolph
Elizabeth Randolph

Can you give any examples of strong internal story goals?

Sieran

I love this post, Jami! Sorry I’m taking so long to comment nowadays. Pokemon Go had this event where for both this and last week, if you manage to walk 50 km or more in a week, you get an in-game reward. I won it last week. I’ll win it this week too— I already have 45.1 km and it’s only Friday. (The clock resets on Monday, 9 am). So that has been taking up a lot of time. Before I comment on this post, I want to say that I tried out your forced comparisons chart. I learned some interesting stuff. So my top life priorities are writing/reading, health, friendships, and my counselling career. I see them as equally important, but when I forced myself to compare all of them, my number one was health, followed by writing, friendship, and lastly my counselling career. Don’t get me wrong— I’m still very passionate about counselling and psychotherapy, but it’s intriguing to see that when I’m pushed to choose, I rank friendship, writing, and health higher. Hmm… But as you said, in real life, we’re allowed to have more than one thing. Plus, doing well in one area can help in another area. Developing my friendships helps me understand human relationships more, which improves both my writing and my counselling skills. Having happier friendships clearly does wonders for my health as well. Okay for this post, I like this distinction between active and passive goals, and how we can turn passive…  — Read More »

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