Character Goals

Book cover for The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne, #amwriting, #amediting, book review, how to write, how to edit

Every character starts a story with a goal. Example: Rapunzel wants to see the lights, Ralph wants to be a hero, Hiccup wants to prove that he belongs in his Viking village. But what your character wants and what they need are seldom the same, and the thing they want is a misguided attempt to fill a need. In most cases, your characters goal is external, but it reflects an intangible desire they can’t quite say.

Ralph’s external want is a medal, but it’s driven by an internal need for acceptance. But acceptance of others isn’t nearly as important as him accepting himself. Once he accepts and becomes proud of who he really is, everything else falls into place, and he realizes the medal never really mattered.

Shawn Coyne breaks this down into plot lines. Storyline “A” is the external want the character is after, storyline “B” is the abstract need they are trying to fill. The very best conflicts (which drive the story) occur when the two conflict. Example: Ralph gets his medal, but at what cost? He feels even worse about himself than he did when the story starts.

The conflicts can occur on a few levels.

Inner conflict. This is your character’s fight with themselves. Example: Ralph’s inner battle with himself as he struggles to come to terms with the fact that he is a bad guy, but that doesn’t make him a bad guy.

Personal Conflict. This is your character’s struggle with other people. It can be with an antagonist, but it’s often also with those they care about. Example: Ralph and Felix goals are in conflict with each other. Ralph needs to leave the game to get his medal, Felix needs to get Ralph back to save the game. Vanelope and Ralph both need the same medal to accomplish their goals, they resolve their conflict by teaming up, but are soon in personal conflict again when Ralph tries to save Vanelope from herself. King Candy and Ralph have a personal conflict, clearly, and the two fight to the death in the climax of the movie.

Extra-Personal Conflict is a conflict with something larger than an individual or yourself. For example, in Wreck it Ralph, Ralph has a personal conflict with Felix or Eugine, but he has an extra-personal conflict with an entire society that sees him as a bad guy and treats him with disdain. An extra-personal conflict tends to be with society as a whole or a force of nature. A natural disaster or zombie story narrative is an extra personal conflict.

So breaking this down further into the five major conflicts, you’ve got…

Man VS Self- Inner conflict

Man VS Man- Personal Conflict

Man VS Society- Interpersonal Conflict

Man VS Nature- Interpersonal Conflict

Man VS Technology- Interpersonal conflict

Most stories contain a mix of inner, personal, or interpersonal.

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