It may seem strange to start with the birds eye view of a novel, but it's the reason why you're writing the story. Something about the story idea, plot or characters spoke to you. Or, if you're anything like my friend, a hero/heroine showed up in your head and refused to shut up.
Depending on how you write, or even where you are in your novel–first draft or fifth revision–your story has an overall goal. So far all you may know is the theme, or the plot or just a character’s name. The important thing is this will be the focus of your novel. The O.G. drives your story. (I got tired of writing overall goal. And, yes, I do chuckle that's O.G. is slang.)
How does it drive your story?
The O.G., in a way, is your character's quest. His/Her purpose is to complete their journey as the victor. Not only does everything she do push you toward the end, but it dictates their actions throughout the novel.
Knowing the Overall Goal Strengthens Your Structure
The O.G. becomes your touchstone. What your character wants or the lesson they need to learn happens in baby steps. If you get stuck while writing a scene you can ask yourself, does this play into the overall goal? If not, how can it? Why does it play into the overall goal?
The O.G. is a compass and it can tell you a lot about your character when you ask yourself the above questions. By knowing this you can avoid scenes that don't lead your character to their goal. That's not saying your character won't take the scenic route to the end, but it's easier to discern a tangent.
Distinction: Character Want
What a character wants can easily be found in your plot. In my first book, How Much You Want to Bet?, Neil wanted to become a Worksite Manager. Even if it meant working with the most irritating man she’d met—Gib.
Scarlett O'Hara wanted Ashley above all else. (She also wanted to save
Tara.) She managed to save
Tara, though, she lost Ashley. But all of her
actions worked toward those wants. Those were her overall goals. (Yes,
you can have more than one goal.)
In gods in Alabama, Arlene Fleet wanted to keep the knowledge of Jim Beverly’s disappearance a mystery.
In Smoke and Mirrors Leonora Hutton wanted to find out what happened to her half-sister. While Thomas Walker wanted the money that had been stolen from an endowment fund by Leonora’s half sister.
Think of the plot as the character’s problem. What does the character feel she needs to fix in her life at that moment? Does she already have a solution? Will she apply her solution like a battering ram throughout the story? In how many different ways can she apply the solution?
Distinction: Character Need
Within a character’s want you will likely find what a character's need. Though Arlene Fleet wants to keep Jim Beverly buried deeply in her past, she needs to let go of his ghost.
Again using Gone With the Wind, Scarlett O'Hara wanted to save
for a myriad of reasons. The root is that she needed stability, i.e., holding
on to tradition.
Yes, one can go deeper about the real meaning of
Tara. To keep the
discussion simple let's leave it at that. For those same reasons, stability and
tradition, she loved Ashley. He was the fantasy and embodiment of those ideals.
Yes, Scarlett needed tradition, but not in a way that would only stifle her growth. Rhett Butler was what she needed all along. A revelation that came to Scarlett by the end of the story.
In Tell Me Lies by Jennifer Crusie, the heroine wanted to protect her daughter from the harsh reality of life. When what she needed to do was tell her daughter the truth.
The major distinction is that a character may know exactly what she wants. As I said, it’s likely the plot, but what she need may be something only you the author knows. The character should get to that point by the end of the book. So what a character wants may change. Yes, frightening, but what she needs never changes.
Some questions to find out what a character needs:
Who is she on the first page?
Who does she need to be on the last page?
What happens in between is your story. Doesn't matter where you are at this point, you can find the overall goal.
Here are some methods to find it:
Use Your Plot to Find Character Want/Need
In the examples above, I used the plot to find what the characters needed. What does your character want? What is it that you see the character needs? Meaning, when you look at your plot (your character's want) does she actually need it? What path does the plot take her? Right into the hero's arms? What is it about him that will change her? Why is that change better for her than say anything else you could imagine?
Use Your Theme to Find Character Want/Need
Redemption, acceptance and forgiveness are popular themes in romance novels. The tortured hero must somehow forgive all the wrongs done to him in order to have his HEA. The heroine must accept herself. So on and so forth. So does the hero want to revel in his wrongdoings, because he sees it as his due? Or, cheesy as it might sound, does all he need is love from the heroine to see past his flaws?
Use Your Character to Find Character Want/Need?
If no one else was around, and she wasn’t being critical of the answer, what would the character yearn for? The answer doesn't have to be practical or realistic where she is in her life. The answer just needs to be honest.
Ok, that cues the end of today's ramble. Next up will be scene. Not the smallest units one can use to craft a novel, but close enough.
I'm more than open to questions or outright disagreement. Do so in the comments.