101 character goals that don’t involve anyone’s dead wife
There are a lot of pieces of writing advice you can ignore, but here’s one you really shouldn’t: you need to include character goals in your story. A character without some type of goal or motivation is just wandering through time and space, waxing poetic and navel gazing as they contemplate the nebulous tide of their existence.
And while there are some books that make this work, they’re few and far between. Even a slice of life narrative has a character who wants something. Your navel gazer is likely reflecting on some unfilled desire that challenges their troubled heart, anyway.
In case you’re wondering about the title of this article, the ‘Wife in Refrigerator’ trope, also sometimes called ‘fridging’, is considered a sexist and tired way to motivate a male character. And we don’t do that sort of thing around here.
Writing advice you can take or leave (but I suggest you take)
One of the best pieces of writing advice I’ve ever received is that your character’s motivation should be evident within the first chapter of your story. It doesn’t need to be much—it can be a line or a few words, but by revealing this want in your character, you immediately set up the bond with your reader and give them a reason to care about your protagonist.
Sometimes this advice will work and sometimes it won’t, but heed the spirit of this idea and make your character’s goal clear somewhere near the beginning of your story.
Why are character goals important?
The reason character goals are so important is they’re what drive the story. Without some kind of want or need in your main character, they have no reason to act or pursue the obstacles you throw in their way. Without giving them a raison d’etre, they’re going to do a terrible job of helping you create a compelling plot.
Types of Character Goals
There are two main types of character goals.
External goals are the types that the outside world can see. Think of a fantasy novel where there is a quest or an object of desire your hero must recover. It could be their goal to take down an evil overlord or find their soulmate. Other characters are aware of the goal and might even help your protagonist achieve it.
Internal goals are ones only your protagonist knows. Perhaps they’re planning to commit a crime and they’ve kept that little fact to themselves. Perhaps they’re pining to escape a loveless marriage or secretly want to become a superhero.
This type of goal might be particularly useful in an unreliable narrator type of scenario where not even the reader knows entirely what your protagonist is after. In this case, they might have an external goal that everyone, including the reader, believes to be true, while your character secretly knows they have additional intentions.
Obstacles and failure
Obviously, for a story to be interesting and compelling, your character’s goal needs to be difficult to achieve. If they’re able to get to their end point with nary a scratch, then your tale is going to be a snoozer. (Snoozer is, in fact, an official literary term BTW.)
So you’ll want to consider what kinds of obstacles are standing in their way. Are they external forces, like a curse they need to break or a fortress they need to storm? Or is it something internal, like in the case of a romance novel where their lack of trust is impeding the relationship?
Either way, consider how you’ll make it really, really hard to get there. And then, when they’re almost there, consider how you’ll throw them a curve ball one last time on their way to fulfillment.
Their goals and their inability to achieve them can also relate to their flaws, which helps give more depth to your characters’ personalities.
Scene goals versus story goals
Not only does your character have a goal for the whole novel, they also have smaller goals for every scene or chapter you write. This helps keep your story and your protagonist moving forward and helps engage your reader.
These can be small or big, depending on the scene, but you’ll often hear people say that every chapter or scene should have some purpose—by tying a goal to them, you can ensure you’re following through on that advice.
List of goals
Obviously, the list of possible things your character can strive for are endless, but here is a list to help get you started:
- Change a law or injustice
- Appease a deity or higher power
- Free a loved one from captivity
- Become the strongest/richest/most powerful
- Retrieve a stolen item
- Break a curse
- Assassinate a king/queen or head of state
- Fall in love
- Solve a murder
- Uncover a secret treasure
- Make others suffer
- Invent something that changes the world
- Manipulate an established system
- Live happily ever after
- Free a helpless victim
- Shake up their current life
- Find a muse
- Establish their own cult
- Lead a rebellion
- Steal from the rich and give to the poor
- Form their own country or nation
- Overcome their self doubt
- End a feud
- Get themselves out of prison
- Start or end a war or conflict
- Learn to trust others
- Win the admiration of others
- Protect their homeland
- Change the past
- Champion a cause
- Reveal a secret plot
- Regain a lost title or legacy
- Bring down their enemies
- Get a new job
- Move to a new place
- Settle a debt
- Control others
- Retreat to solitude
- Overcome their fears
- Be remembered after their death
- Explore the world
- Find fulfillment in their work
- Explore their creativity
- Live a healthier life
- Become more thoughtful
- Save Christmas or another holiday
- Live in a fairytale
- Protect the environment
- Learn a new skill
- Overthrow evil
- Get fired from their job
- Stand up to peer pressure
- Eradicate a scourge
- Recover from an injury
- Betray a sibling
- Stop abuse of themselves or someone else
- Get out of financial distress
- Dump their partner
- Get revenge on someone who stole something from them
- Find a place to belong
- Care for a sick loved one
- Find their parents or lost family
- Overcome an addiction
- Fulfill a prophecy
- Move out of someone’s shadow
- Clean up a dangerous neighborhood
- Become revered or respected
- Find a new direction in life
- Initiate a successful corporate merger
- Recover an ancient artifact
- Face their guilt for a past wrong
- Make amends with someone
- Seek revenge
- Escape their destiny
- Get back home
- Sacrifice themselves to save someone else
- Overcome fear of judgment
- Become more than their outward appearance
- Uncover a stalker
- Write a book (ahem)
- Lead people to change
- Wreak havoc
- Challenge the status quo
- Catch a criminal
- Tempt someone into ruin
- Steal someone’s identity or life
- Have a child
- Get elected to public office
- Overcome social anxiety
- Win a contest or competition
- Learn a new language
- Save the world
- Live forever
- Become a supernatural being
- Make contact with a foreign species
- Travel to a distant land
- Enchant an object
- Kill someone
- Atone for past sins
- Find religion
- Destroy someone else’s relationship
Hopefully, that’s enough to get you started. As you can see, goals and motivation can come in many forms.
To keep track of your characters and their goals, you can make use of Dabble’s Story Notes and take a look at this article on how to write compelling characters for some more ideas.
Try it yourself and write your way to characters who will keep your story moving forward. To try all Dabble’s premium features for free for fourteen days, click here. No credit card required.
If you’re planning to become an indie author, one of the first things you might be wondering is: how do you price a self-published book?
If you’re planning to become an indie author, one of the first things you might be wondering is: how do you price a self-published book?
You’ve cobbled together 100K words of sheer brilliance, but now you must tackle the hardest task. How do you write book titles, anyway?
Looking for great writing exercises for fiction writers? We've got you covered with prompts to inspire story, character, and more.
How much do authors make? It's a question every writer asks at least once. We break it down for you in this blog!
Theses six steps can help show you how to become a fiction writer. Figure out what works best for you!
Want to learn the secret of how to overcome writer's block? You've got to get to the root of the problem. We can help.
Fight scenes are what some readers live for, but writing them can be tough. Let's dissect how to write a fight scene in your novel.
Not sure how to describe clothing writing? It's easier (and more fun) than you might think. Here's everything you need to know.
Romance tropes are the heartbeat of what makes romance novels feel like cozy sweaters you want to snuggle into.
Character motivation is essential in creating characters your readers will care about. Learn about the types of motivation with Dabble!
How to start a first chapter: include action, character, plot, emotion, and motivation or you’re going to lose your reader.
Want to learn how to write exposition that's not so explainy? Divulge compelling backstory using these tried-and-true tips.
English is whack. Let's make something better. Here's how to create a fictional language in four simple steps.
How long should your chapters be? On average, chapters tend to range from 1,000-5,000 words, with most falling in the 2,000-4,000 range.
Need original character questions to inspire your work in progress? Dig deep with these one-of-a-kind character interview questions.
It isn't easy to write a good villain, at least not without the right ingredients. Let Dabble give you the perfect recipe for a villain!
There are a lot of pieces of writing advice you can ignore, but here’s one you shouldn’t: you need to include character goals in your story.
Why does character motivation matter? Find out why a thrilling plot is not enough and how to design motivation that resonates with readers.
Outlining your future bestseller isn't easy! But we break it down for you so you can plan a novel that rocks.
You might be wondering: how long does it take to write a book? The answer depends on a variety of factors.
Here are sixty-five character development questions, plus tips on how and when to interview your characters. Get inspired and get unstuck!
Conflict is what makes books worth reading. Join us as we explore the four types of conflict you can use to make you story memorable!
Do you have a writer in your life who needs a gift? Check out this list of 61 gifts for writers that will help them with their author dreams.
Need character ideas for your next story? Find a ton of original ideas and brainstorming questions right here!
The words you use to start a story are some of the most important you'll write. We'll help make sure you get them right!
A character flaw is a fault, limitation, or weakness that can be internal or external factors that affect your character and their life.
The Seducer/Seductress archetype can help you craft unforgettable villains and surprisingly sympathetic anti-heroes. Learn how.
The Orphan archetype makes for both inspiring heroes and unsettlingly sympathetic villains. Learn how to use this archetype in your story.
Explore the fundamentals of the Outlaw Archetype and how they serve your story. Explore famous examples of Outlaws in popular media.
The Common Person or Everyman is a powerful archetype that can instantly relate to your readers. Learn how to use it in your writing!
The caregiver archetype is more than a saint. Learn how to craft a fascinating, flawed, and deep-souled caregiver for your story.
The Creator Archetype breathes life into their art, often to an obsessive level. Learn all about using this archetype in your writing!
The Ruler archetype is one of the most recognizable and is about stability and maintaining order through control and power.
Get to know the Innocent archetype, from Buddy the Elf to Andy Dwyer. Learn how to write this lovable (and sometimes chaotic) character.
The Sage archetype is an important one in all storytelling—one that can either help or hinder the protagonist's journey in your book.
Explorer Archetypes long for adventure and seek out new places, ideas, and experiences to live a thrilling, exciting, and fulfilling life.
What is the Jester archetype? Find out what you need to know to give your funniest character true purpose and depth.
Lover archetypes embrace the love they hold for friends, family, their gods, or simply the world around them.
The Magician archetype is one of the most popular archetypes in writing. In this blog, we explain everything you need to know about Magicians!
What is the hero archetype? From epic heroes to anti-heroes, here's everything you need to know about crafting a compelling hero.
The seven basic plot points offer perhaps what is the most open-ended of the structure archetypes with broad, high-level descriptions.
Chekhov's Gun is a fundamental principle in writing. Join us as we examine what this principle is so you can apply it to your own writing.
What is three-act structure? Learn why this story structure is so effective and whether it can help you plot your novel.
The Hero's Journey is a classic story structure. Learn why it's so popular among writers and how to apply it to your own storytelling.
We call it John Gardner's aquatic monstrosity, the Fichtean Curve is a narrative structure that can help you easily plan out your novel.
We break down Randy Ingermanson's Snowflake Method, a type of outlining that can make writing your book much easier and faster.
A New York City story coach shares her best tips on how to create compelling characters. She walks through each step in the process.
Learn about Dan Harmon's Story Circle—what it is, how it can help you plot your novel, and whether it's right for you.
One of the original story structures, Freytag's Pyramid is the foundation for dramatic stories and tragedies. Learn all about it with Dabble!
Learn how to write a children's book with this ultimate guide and template for designing a story that resonates with young readers.
In this article, we’ll explore what active and passive writing is and when you should use them. Contrary to some beliefs, sometimes passive voice does make sense. Not everything you write should or needs to be active (though it should be most of the time).
Editing your book can be a daunting task. In this article, we breakdown the different types of editing and when you should apply them.
Learn how to write a book synopsis that gets the attention of agents and publishers. It's easier than you think.
3rd-person limited or 1st-person epistolary? Here is what you need to know about narrative point of view and your story.
Story structures are the frameworks that tie your story together. A story structure can help guide your book to be the best it can be!
Bestselling author Kristina Stanley breaks down the three questions you need to ask to self-edit your book's characters, plot, and setting.
Which of the four character arc types is right for your story? And what is a character arc?
To write a romance you need to manage three separate arcs: your main character, your love interest, and the romance itself.
Character archetypes can help you write complex, three-dimensional characters. Learn more about them, including 14 common types, with Dabble.
Learn how to write a book in this ultimate guide. Plus find editing tips, map out a publishing journey, & download a free outlining template.
Unsure of how to start writing? This easy guide and checklist will help you turn your writing dreams into a reality.