10 January 2010

Character Objectives

by Linda Yezak

James Scott Bell is one of the terrific authors who contributed to the Write Great Fiction Series. His book, Plot & Structure, introduces his LOCK system of plotting. As he says, whether you're a plotter or an SOTP writer (like I am), knowing the elements in a novel helps considerably. So, here are the elements according to Bell:

L: Lead (aka, Main Character or MC)

O: Objective

C: Confrontation

K: Knockout ending

He reiterates this in his Revision & Self-Editing book, and just looking at it again has helped me regain my direction for the revisions of my romantic comedy Give the Lady a Ride.

Of the LOCK components, the Objective is the one that really keeps the action moving. Leads have goals and strive to obtain them--that's why they have a story. According to Bell, the two dominant objectives found in most novels are to “get something or to get away from something.” The dominant objective for genre writers is dictated by the genre. Ride is a romance, so the necessary objective for both my Leads is to get Love.

But there are other objectives Bell doesn’t address. For instance, story objectives, the ones that makes my romance different from other romances. In Ride, Talon's story objective is to keep his job as foreman of the Circle Bar Ranch, something that may not happen if Patricia, the new owner, sells it. Although she comes to the ranch to sell it, Patricia's story objective is to get away from her situation back home, but remaining in Texas would mean disregarding her responsibilities. Until she resolves her objective, Talon's objective is on the line--which brings about confrontation, aka conflict. And keep in mind: If the Objective keeps the action moving, the Confrontation keeps the action interesting.

Each scene and chapter also contain auxiliary objectives intended to move the characters through the book. In Chapter One, Talon's objective is to find out if the cute but out-of-place woman on his ranch is really his new boss. Patricia's objective is to prove it to him. Both of these objectives are different from my objectives. As the writer, my objective is to introduce the characters and provide tension from the very beginning.

Objectives are tricky little things: they change as situations change. For the purpose of the novel, the dominant objectives (Love, for Ride) must remain the same throughout or you'll be riding down too many alleys and lose sight of the main road. Auxiliary objectives change out of necessity: After Talon discovers who Patricia is, he's met his goal and should move on to the next one. Story objectives can change or not, but they must support the dominant objectives. As an example: since Talon's and Patricia's story objectives conflict, each changes their goals to obtain the dominant objective--Love.

As you write, keep an eye on all your characters’ objectives: Do you meet your dominant objectives as set by your genre? Do the characters’ story objectives set your book apart? Does each scene or chapter have auxiliary objectives? (If not, re-evaluate whether you need them). All these objectives help keep your story moving, which is your objective as the writer.


Linda Yezak teaches creative writing in Texas. Her novel, Give the Lady a Ride, was a finalist in the 2008 ACFW Genesis Competition and is in the revision stage. Linda is an independent editor, and a critique partner/writing coach. She co-hosts AuthorCulture with two other authors. You can contact her at pprmint155@yahoo.com.


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  2. This is a very useful tool thanks!

  3. Thanks for posting this! Sorry I've been away from my own site. I've been moving and preparing for graduate school in New Zealand. I miss writing. I need to make time for it.