Clarify the Protagonist’s Goals

Something I’ve been overcomplicating and struggling with my book is the protagonist’s goals.  Now, I’m not saying I didn’t have goals for her or that her goals weren’t clear to me, but if you were to ask me to tell you what they were I would get discombobulated and either clam up or spew a whole lot of nonsense your way.  So, basically, I knew what my goal was for the protagonist, but I didn’t know how to state it clearly or chronologically.

In the current session of our creative writing class, we are talking about our protagonist’s goals: what are they, do they change or stay the same, is what the character wants the same as what the character needs?  That kind of thing…

I first had to identify my antagonists, what problems my protagonist faces (internally and externally) and what decisions she needs to make.  If her goal changes, why?  Does she fail to attain her first goal or does achieving that goal lead to another dilemma?  Once I was able to concisely identify the problems introduced in the story and in what order they occurred I was able to identify and order what outcomes she was hoping to achieve.

What does the character want to overcome?  What outcome does she what?

I express myself better on paper than I do with my physical voice, so writing this assignment helped me organize my thoughts.  Yay for having a direct answer to the ‘what’s the story about’ question!

The writing exercise this week was to pick a protagonist from a favorite book/show/movie/etc. and write down what kind of personality they have and how I know, what he wants, what he needs (are they the same thing or different), and what happens if he fails to get what he wants/needs.  One of my all time favorite movies is Breakfast at Tiffany’s and I was going to do the exercise using that movie, but I’ve spent a lot of hours watching Chuck on Netflix this summer and it’s fresh on my mind.  So, Chuck it is:


Charles Bartowski, Chuck, is an under-achieving, heart-on-his-sleeve, loving computer geek.  He automatically trusts and thinks the best of people, even after his college roommate got him kicked out of Stanford and stole his girlfriend.  He is a computer repairman for BuyMore (modeled after Best Buy and the Geek Squad), but he’s also a whiz at technology.  Meaning, he is qualified for way better, way more affluent positions.  His confidence was shot after leaving college and for years he’s just gone through the motions.

His former roommate sends him an email that ends up planting a government computer in his brain, which changes his life forever.  All Chuck wants is to get the computer out of his head so he can stop lying to his family and get back to his uneventful (read boring) life, but what Chuck really needs is to accept that he’s been given an opportunity to do something great, to no longer be the failure he’s felt like.  He’s actually good at being a spy, not the killing part, but his problem solving skills are useful.

If he fails to get what he wants and is stuck with the computer in his brain, then he will remain property of the US government—an asset and a spy—and he will continue to live a double life, controlled by his handlers.  He also runs the risk of being captured by enemies of the state.  If he fails to get what he needs and can’t accept his new CIA role, then he goes back to just being a BuyMore employee and his name gets added to a CIA hit list, plus enemies will continue hunting him.  He knows too much for the US government to let him live and too much for our enemies to let him go.




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