Let’s talk about character goals a bit more and look at things from a different perspective.
Remember that your character needs goals. They need the thing they need. They want the thing they want. Ideally, these two things (the need and the want) conflict with each other. Goals and the inability to achieve those goals also make conflict. Conflict is good for readers.
But how do you choose your character’s goals? Let’s ask some questions.
What is your character dissatisfied with? What is making them unhappy? This is the trigger for what they want. They want to be happy.
What does your character believe will bring them happiness? This belief is your character’s aspiration. This belief is also most probably wrong. Your character THINKS this is what will make them happy. But in reality, it’s a misbelief. And the misbelief creates conflict. Conflict is good for readers.
What can your character do to turn their aspiration into reality? This is your story goal. Your character wants happiness and if they do these steps they will achieve what they want. Except, there is always something to get in the way of the steps. You know that phrase, “One step forward, two steps back?” Yeah, that applies to fiction, too. The thing that gets in the way creates conflict. Conflict is good for readers.
What keeps your character from taking the action necessary to turn their ambition into reality? This is your internal conflict. This is the fear-based issue of some sort usually. They really want to be happy, and they could be happy only if they would do these simple things, but they can’t because if they do those simple things then…they might succeed, or they might lose a relationship, or they might fail and they are afraid of that, or…you get it, right?
Your character can run, but they can’t hide from their goals.
What would it take for your character to act on the above in spite of their fear? This is what will launch your character into action. They don’t want to act, really, or they can’t, but something happens that forces them to act. This forceful event/thing/person creates conflict. Conflict is good for readers.
The decision to act in spite of everything is what propels your plot.
Let’s look at an example.
Remember that Harrison Ford movie called The Fugitive? If you haven’t seen it recently, watch it. If you haven’t ever seen it, it’s a good study in character goals, character motivations, and great conflict. Don’t worry if you write in different genres. This craft is the same for all genres. You just tweak them for your character’s individual circumstances.
Back to The Fugitive. Someone killed Kimball’s wife and Kimball is blamed for the murder. He escapes and wants to find the killer. Kimball is also hunted by law enforcement. His goal is to find the killer, but the thing getting in the way is law enforcement. There’s a scene where the cop chases Kimball into the sewer. Kimball can’t escape because the drainage pipe leads to a fall of hundreds of feet down into a raging river. He must give up. But he can’t. The risk of capture forces him to jump from the pipe, down, down, down, into the river. Kimball has to make that decision in order to be free so he can catch his wife’s killer. And the conflict that resulted from Kimball’s decision propels the reader (viewer) on through the story.
Remember that the decisions to pursue the goal start small and grow incrementally as the story progresses so that the conflict grows with each decision until the climax. These decisions, this growing conflict, propels the story. Your characters must have goals. Your characters must be motivated. Your characters must have conflict.
Conflict is good for readers.