No matter what type of book you’re writing, whether it’s a heartwarming contemporary romance or fantasy adventure, you’ll need to include effective character goals. Goals push your characters forward, help to shape the story’s events, and keep readers compelled to read on. Characters who don’t have effective goals can often end up feeling passive, and this can make a story feel dull or uninteresting to read – which definitely isn’t something writers want!
Readers want to care about characters, and if characters lack goals and problems to fix in their lives, they will struggle to care about their journey.
So, what’s the best way to craft character goals that are interesting, compelling, and make readers care? And what are effective goals – how can you be sure the goals you’re giving your characters are going to work well?
Defining effective character goals
Character goals are most effective when they’re specific and tangible. That means they need to be clearly defined, otherwise readers won’t understand what the characters want or why it’s important. Character goals should also be achievable in the context of the story, and connected to your character’s motivations, desires, and the overarching plot.
Another crucial thing to remember about character goals is that they shouldn’t be easy to reach. If you give your character a goal in Chapter 1, have them achieve it in Chapter 3, and spend the rest of the book focusing on other random events, that won’t make for a satisfying experience for your readers. Instead, they’ll be wondering about the point of the story.
Goals work best when they’re accomplished over the course of a story, with the character actively working towards reaching them, experiencing growth, and hitting up against obstacles along the way.
Sometimes, character goals shift subtly – a character may initially have a goal linked to maintaining the status quo, and may resist change. Characters might not even be aware of the goal they “need” to accomplish to fulfil them, instead favouring something that they “want”, but that does them harm or keeps them stuck. These types of goals are common in romance and contemporary fiction focused on character development.
Examples of effective character goals
With all that in mind, here are some examples of effective character goals from books and franchises you might know of.
- Obtaining or destroying a legendary item to stop a villain from conquering the world – in the Lord of the Rings series, Frodo must destroy the ring to stop Sauron
- To defeat a villain who wants to seize control of the world – in the Harry Potter series, Harry’s wider goal is to defeat Voldemort, the dark wizard
- To prevent an apocalypse – in the Way of Kings series, Kaladin and Dalinar work to prevent a Desolation event
- Breaking a curse in order to find love – in A Court of Thorns and Roses, Feyre’s goal is to break the curse that plagues her love interest and the court
- Uniting different kingdoms – in A Deal with the Elf King, Luella’s goal is to save her kingdom with the Elf King’s support, with their love story directly tied into this
- To protect and serve another character – in Vampire Academy, Rose’s main goal is to protect Princess Lissa; her love interest Dimitri’s goal is to protect a particular group of vampires, and to train Rose to be a skilled guardian
- Quest to find love – in Bridget Jones’s Diary, Bridget is on a path of self-improvement, which includes the goal of finding love
- To heal from a loss or tragedy – in P.S. I Love You, Holly’s goal is to heal after the loss of her husband, Gerry, using tasks he set out in his final letters to her
- To come to terms with emotions – in The Bride Test by Helen Hoang, the goal is not explicitly stated, but it becomes clear that Khai’s purpose is to come to terms with his emotions and accept that he’s capable of love as someone with autism
- To heal and reconnect with others – in Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Eleanor’s initial goal is to maintain her routine and isolation, which evolves into a desire to heal from her past and reconnect with other people
- Surviving or escaping trauma – in The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart by Holly Ringland, Alice seeks a life away from her past and her trauma, which eventually leads to new goals around healing, learning about her family’s history, and finding her voice
Young adult (YA)
Character goals in the young adult age category are obviously dependent on the genre – here are some examples from popular YA books in various genres:
- To resist and rebel against an authority – the series begins with a goal of survival for Katniss, but this evolves into a desire to resist the Capitol and start up a rebellion
- To solve a mystery or crime – in A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder, Pip’s aim is to investigate the murder of Andie Bell as part of a school project
- Academic achievement – in Radio Silence by Alice Oseman, Frances’s goal is to excel at her academic studies and attend her dream university
- Navigating a romance – in The Kissing Booth by Beth Reekles, Elle’s goal is to organise a kissing booth for a school event, which then shifts to navigating and figuring out her growing feelings for her best friend’s older brother
How to connect character goals to your plot
In crafting goals for your characters, remember that these should be clearly linked to the overarching plot, otherwise the narrative may feel jumbled or incoherent. This is often one of the most challenging aspects of plotting and character development.
To achieve this, remember to connect the character’s major goal to the central conflict or theme of the book. As the character works to accomplish their goal, any actions, decisions and sources of conflict should push the plot forward in a meaningful way. Here are some examples of this in action:
- Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead: The conflict here is all about the two vampire races – the Moroi and the Strigoi – and how Moroi royalty can best be protected. Rose, the main character, has a goal that is clearly linked to this wider plot, since she wants to protect Princess Lissa from harm. Her actions in the story are connected to her goal and the wider plot.
- Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding: The wider plot in this story is based around finding love and accepting yourself. Bridget’s goal to date and find a suitable romantic partner – as well as working on self-improvement and self-acceptance – is directly connected to that.
Remember that character goals can clash, too: a protagonist’s goal in a fantasy story, for instance, is often in direct opposition to the goal of the antagonist. This can add complexity, tension, and obstacles to your story.
I hope this post helped you come up with some effective character goals for your book!
If you need additional help with your manuscript and feedback from a professional editor, check out my editorial services.