In every story, the point of view character must have a goal. Without a goal, the character has no chance at the successes and failures that create tension and drive a story forward. Without a goal, the character cannot change along their path to reach their goal. Characters with depth have both external and internal goals.
What is the difference between external and internal goals?
External goals are goals obvious to the reader.
For example, in a scene, a character may have a goal of making the most perfect dinner party for a group of colleagues who have judged this character as lacking in the past.
The goal of having the perfect dinner party has stakes in it. Success for this character means praise from people who have judged him previously. Failure means reinforcing the negative belief the colleagues have in his ability to create a successful event.
Internal goals drive the character to make all their choices in the way they do.
For example, in the same scene listed above, the character who wants to create a perfect dinner party obviously wants the dinner party to go well and to impress his colleagues for the evening.
However, his internal goal might be the need to be seen as competent in his life. The success of the dinner party and the approval of his colleagues would take him closer to his goal of being seen as competent.
For more information on the difference between external and internal goals, read Two Types of Character Goals to Build Depth.
Using internal goals to create depth in a character
Writers create depth in a character by giving them internal goals that have a wide effect on their lives and others.
For example, a character may have an internal goal of creating wealth in their life, which is a clear driving force for their actions in a story.
Or a character can have an internal goal of creating wealth in their life for the purpose of supporting loved ones, becoming philanthropic, or satisfying another need only money can allow.
Both internal goals will work in a story, but the second example gives the writer more opportunity to reward and challenge a character seeking to achieve this goal.
Writers can create internal goals with depth by giving a character…
- A flaw
- A trauma
- A secret
- A fear
- A dream
Famous Examples of Internal Goals
Victor Frankenstein wants to give life to his creature, but internally he is driven by the same detrimental passion Robert Walton possesses to do what no other man has done before him.
As Batman, Bruce Wayne might want to save Gotham City from crime, but he is internally motivated to avenge his parents’ murder.
Tony Soprano aims to be head of the North Jersey crime family at all costs, however his drive for success stems from his internal need to prove his worth to his critical and demeaning mother.
Complex characters are attractive to readers because their true self is revealed slowly throughout a story. Writers who give their characters internal goals with depth can more skillfully show this complexity and keep readers engaged until those final moments of change on the page.
Article Written by Heather Wood
By combining my experience of teaching writing at the secondary level with a Fictionary StoryCoach Edit, I will help you strengthen your story while honouring the care and effort you have dedicated to your art.
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