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Character Goals in Fiction

Hello Readers. This week, we have invited one of our committee members to share a series of three posts for fiction writers. The posts deal with goals, motivations, and conflicts needed by our story characters to bring them to life. The writer, Crystal Caudill, is our current newsletter publisher and is also a faculty member who received rave reviews on her teaching of the Teen Track at our 2019 conference and her online fiction class in 2020. Enjoy these posts and sign up for our newsletter to read more by Crystal.

GMC: Part 1 – Goals

Guest Post by Crystal Caudill

Goal, motivation, and conflict (GMC) are the basic building blocks for any fiction piece you write. In this three-part series, we’re going to break down each component for both the newbie writer and the experienced writer.


A goal answers the question: What does your character want?

Everyone has goals in life. Today my goal is to mail this belated birthday card. However, I don’t think you would want to read a story about that. Why not? It’s not a compelling goal that grips your heart and soul to keep you turning pages.

What makes a compelling goal?

Compelling goals are the ones that will change a character’s life if met or not met. If I don’t get this belated birthday card out in the mail today, it’s not going to change anyone’s life. However, if this belated birthday card is the only means of reconciling a broken relationship before the recipient passes on to eternity, it becomes a compelling goal.

Part of what makes a compelling goal are the stakes, which plays into motivation. (More on motivation next week.) Stakes are the consequences of not meeting that goal. If the birthday card does not reach the recipient before their death, I could suffer the long-term emotional weight of guilt or regret. It affects my life. If I reach my goal, then I will achieve peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation. The emotional weight carried throughout life change depending on the outcome.

External Goals vs. Internal:

Every character is going to have two sets of goals: external and internal. External goals are tangible goals that are achieved without any reference to emotion. Example: mailing the belated birthday card.

Internal goals are all about emotion. These are the goals like, “I want to be reconciled with my mother before she dies.” Reconciliation is not something I can touch, but it has a tremendous emotional burden that can affect your character’s life.

To develop a strong character, you must create a goal in which they desperately need what they do not have. Not only should the character desperately want it, but they should also urgently need it—the more urgent, the better. In the interest of achieving their goal in time, they will make choices they would not have previously considered. Urgency will push them to make choices that go against their own best interest.

The best external and internal goals play off each other, creating both internal conflict and obstacles that they must confront to be successful. The desperation to reach those goals should push your characters to make decisions they would never have made before. Some of those choices will have dire consequences.

Without compelling goals, your story will fail to engage readers. To help you develop your character’s goals, I’ve compiled a list of application questions.

If you are bold enough, share your character’s goal and what makes it compelling. Then come back next week to learn about motivation.

Application Questions:

  • What is your main character’s goal?
  • What is the consequence of not achieving their goal?
  • How can you make them more dire?
  • How can you make the goal more urgent?
  • What choices would your character have to make that go against their best interest?
  • What do you want your character to learn throughout the story?
  • What could be their internal goal?
  • What makes them desperate for this feeling?
  • What will be the consequences if they do not achieve this internal goal?


Crystal Caudill is an award-winning historical romance author with a flair for danger. She is a member of RWA and ACFW, a monthly contributor to, and is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of the Steve Laube Agency. Her debut novel will release early 2022 from Kregel Publishing. When not writing, Crystal can be found playing board games with her husband and boys, caregiving for loved ones, traveling with her extended family, hiding in a book, or drinking copious amounts of hot tea.

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