Friday, January 11th, 2013

Writing Prompt – Resolutions, Goals and Conflict

A long time ago I resolved not to make New Years resolutions.

I’m not against trying to do better. I just don’t like the system: For the last month of the year or so, people start talking about what they’re going to do next year: lose weight, read more, eat more vegetables, stop kicking the cat.


And for a month or so, people binge eat, swear off books, eat less vegetables and kick the cat more…because they know in a few weeks they’ll have to go cold turkey. (Never realizing, of course, that by Valentine’s Day, 75%* of all those resolutions will be long broken anyway.)

* I made up that statistic. But you get my point.

And besides, it’s all so arbitrary. If you want to stop kicking the cat, do it NOW. Why wait?

That being said…

I do like to set goals for myself: reachable, measurable goals which are wholly under my control. (If they’re out of my control, they’re not goals, they’re dreams. Don’t get me wrong: dreams are awesome. But they often rely on outside influences to obtain them.)

If I miss a goal, I’ve only got myself to blame…

…unlike really good fiction.

Goals are the building blocks of stories. The hero has a list of goals he wants to achieve. The protagonist has a list of goals he wants to achieve (often at odds with the hero’s goals). Without this conflict, the story is boring.

Often, the hero’s most basic goals, let’s say, leaving a room, are stymied by the protagonist — who locks the door, or shoots the hero, or reveals a bit of information to the hero that is so inconceivable, that the hero is frozen in place (by shock, indecision, heartbreak, anger, etc.). No matter what, the hero cannot simply get up and walk out of the room.

Here’s Your Prompt:

  1. Make a list of 3 – 5 goals you want your hero to accomplish. (If you’re writing a short story, stick with 1 goal, 2 at the most.)
  2. Make a list of 3 – 5 goals for the antagonist to accomplish: goals which by their very nature are at odds with the hero. Remember: at the beginning of the story, the antagonist doesn’t know what the protagonist’s goals are, so it’s cheating if the goal is a direct contradiction of the hero’s.
    For example:

    Your protagonist might be a retiring Firefighter looking to purchase his neighbor’s 10-acre farm on which to live out his golden years.

    The real estate agent handling the transaction finds out the land contains lucrative mineral deposits, and puts in a bid for himself instead. Prices for the farm escalate into a bidding war as the realtor decides he wants to own the property for its potential value.

    (So, the protagonist’s goal is to buy some property to retire on. The antagonist’s goal is NOT to stop him from retiring with property, but to invest money in a property with possible lucrative minerals. It just so happens that in this case, the property is one and the same.)

  3. Choose one goal for each of them, and write the scene where the two goals conflict.

Good luck!