Can my story goal change mid story

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Mike Dickson
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Can my story goal change mid story

Post by Mike Dickson » March 25th, 2011, 5:05 pm

As I put together my story, I'm running into a problem where my story goal wants to change. The pro starts off with a clear goal but once he gets close to the perceived goal the rug is pulled out from under him and a new story goal begins.
It works well and makes the story more interesting but I'm not sure how that kind of thing is viewed by the reader.

Mike R
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Re: Can my story goal change mid story

Post by Mike R » March 25th, 2011, 6:38 pm

I think if circumstances change, the goal could change. I can't think of any examples right now but I'm sure it's been done.

Louise Curtis
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Re: Can my story goal change mid story

Post by Louise Curtis » March 25th, 2011, 6:56 pm

Usually the goal expands rather than changing (I just re-read "Sabriel" and her goal is to save her father, but then she realises that the entire Kingdom is sliding into ruin - making her goal to save her father much more important - but by the climax that plot is ended and all that remains is saving the kingdom).

But if you foreshadow the change a bit, the two goals don't have to be linked eg in the above plot it would still work if her father was just an ordinary man and she simply stumbled into the kingdom issues along the way (and her own kingdom-saving skills were demonstrated, without her necessarily noticing at the time how vital she was), then decided she had to save the kingdom instead.

As long as the second goal is bigger, and there's a clear shift of gears, it's all good. If the first plot is still unresolved, that gives the readers something to stress over in the back of their minds, which is definitely a good thing.
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Re: Can my story goal change mid story

Post by polymath » March 25th, 2011, 7:22 pm

A protagonist's goal might change as a causal consequence of a recognition brought on by pursuing a first goal. The reversal can fall at any major turn: inciting crisis, realization crisis, climax turn, tragic crisis, or final crisis. Frodo's goal, for instance at the outset is to have an adventure like Bilbo's. Frodo's goal changes, albeit reluctantly, during the inciting crisis brought on by a dramatic visitation from Gandalf when he has realized the Ring's significance. However, the main dramatic complication introduced in The Hobbit doesn't change and isn't resolved until the denouement of the final installment.

By definition, a simple plot straightforwardly pursues one goal without anagnorisis (profound recognition of the true state of circumstances) or peripetia (an abrupt, profound reversal of circumstances); a complex plot has one or both anagnorisis and peripetia and they can stand alone or go hand in hand. Theoretically, a plot can have one or both at each major turn, up to five anagnorises and five peripetias. However, that degree of plot complexity is challenging to write and challenging to read.
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Re: Can my story goal change mid story

Post by siebendach » March 25th, 2011, 8:38 pm

It sounds like you're good to go. You had me when you said the protag got the rug pulled out from under him.

I'd be disappointed if the protag just got bored, said "what the hell" and decided to stop chasing a serial killer to go surfing in Bali. But if he finds that the guy he's been chasing for two years is actually innocent --- and he has to start chasing someone else? Something like that is fine.

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Re: Can my story goal change mid story

Post by JohnBarnes » March 26th, 2011, 12:28 pm

The story goal is there to serve the story; it's not a magic checklist item like something in a grading rubric. Change it when it needs changing.

As a reader I generally move on to the next story and don't finish the one in front of me if I can tell it's following all the rules. As a book doctor (and my special area is people in the gray almost-publishable zone) I spend a lot of time telling people that the nomenclature and principles they learned in workshops are mostly ways for people to move from amorphous blobs of prose about stuff they made up to fiction-like objects -- a necessary step in most people's development, but the step beyond, to stories, requires unlearning the rules, or rather learning to play with them. It's a bit like the difference between knowing the steps and dancing (the thing real dancers call musicality) or not looking embarrassing on the mat and winning a round.

So you have a great, fabulous, wonderful thing that has happened here. Finish the story, but when you go back to revise, you'll find its living beating heart in that change of goals. It's not a disease, it's a touch of the divine.

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