We need to know the character goal—explicitly. This allows the reader to take that goal and turn it into a long-term story question.
This was a revelation to me… WHAT?! We don’t lead the reader like a stealthy ninja through our story and keep them guessing, pull them along, make them keep turning those pages?
The goal of each scene is to relate the story question in some way CLEARLY.
If the reader does not understand the story goal, why should he/she stay engaged? How will the reader identify with the character emotionally? And this is rub of the whole bit of writing a story or novel, having someone care about our book, about the character, maybe even identify with some universal longing or emotion. It is much trickier to do than typing up a short blog post…
I have found that taking a highlighter to books that I love, and highlighting the want of the character in each scene (and understanding how that ties to the story questions), is a great way to “get” how to write that character goal explicitly. (And because I have issues with marked up books, I have to purchase two copies of the book right away. A clean copy for my shelf, and my it-gives-me-pain-to-mark-you-up copy.)
I recently read Love, Aubrey by Suzanne LaFleur, thanks to a recommendation by a critique partner. This book is written in a lovely, melancholy language and emotion (there is a beauty to this book because of the sadness in it). I mention it specifically because before the first scene even breaks, right on page six, we know what Aubrey wants. Aubrey wants a family. From there, WE WANT to KNOW through the whole book and every scene, will Aubrey get that family? How could we root for Aubrey, if the author did not let us (the readers know) what it was that Aubrey wanted? Well we wouldn’t of course… and that is the whole point. Let the reader know the goal. Don’t string her or him along.
No ninja hiding with character goals.