Map out your future – but do it in pencil. The road ahead is as long as you make it. Make it worth the trip.Jon Bon Jovi
In early September, we embarked on a long and detailed review of a wonderful story development tool known as Beemgee (fyi, that’s also the name of the company that created the tool).
Beemgee’s focus is both plot and character. We started with character. The three attributes we’ve considered so far are external problem, want, and goal. Today, let’s look at task.
Simply put, task is what the character has to complete to achieve the goal and solve the external problem. Task is all about what a character does, his actions. It’s not about what’s going on inside him. Rather, it’s about his external world and how he behaves toward it.
Think mission. Rarely does a character have to complete one task. A mission, say, to travel to the deep, dark cave and destroy the dragon, is comprised of a series of tasks. For example, the hero might have to investigate the cave’s location. He might have to acquire special supplies and weapons. He might have to enlist an ally or two. To accomplish the mission, our hero engages in a multitude of activities.
These actions, including what happens when our hero reaches the cave and engages the dragon, will fill a vast portion of our story plot. This fact should trigger at least a brief moment of satisfaction for us writers.
Think about it a minute (you might want to review the external problem, want, and goal posts (not goalposts). We’ve given our hero a problem he must address (it’s been festering for a while or it hit him out of the clear blue sky). He wants to be free of the problem, thus he sets a goal for himself. For example, he must kill the dragon before he can rescue the princess. Now, we’ve given him a mission comprised of a multitude of steps he must complete before he can achieve the goal and solve the external problem.
See how all this fits? Do you see how your story is developing? Of course, we’re just starting, but it appears Beemgee is a viable way to construct a story worth writing, and hopefully one attractive to our readers.
One final thought. Our protagonist isn’t the only one with these four attributes. Think about your antagonist. Commonly, his external problem is the protagonist and what he’s trying to achieve. Thus, the antagonist’s goal is to stop the protagonist by pursuing a mission filled with multiple steps.
Characters with opposing goals create conflict. These battles are seen all along the path toward goal fulfillment, no matter whose goal we’re talking about. During every action by the protagonist to complete a task (locate the map that reveals the cave), he is faced with opposition, a hardy resistance to his success.
And, everyone knows without conflict, there is no story.
Take out a pencil and start thinking about the task your protagonist must accomplish to achieve his goal. Do the same for your antagonist and his helpers. By the way, does your protagonist have an ally with a somewhat conflicting goal? Will it hinder your hero in some small or large way?
This activity will help you learn more about your characters. Remember, they are defined by the actions they take. Don’t be too dictatorial, you might miss out on how they can surprise you.
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Let’s beemgee. Beemgee is a company that offers a story development tool of the same name.
Before we can write, we need to know a few things (preferably many) about our characters, and what they’ll be doing.
For now, let’s focus on the protagonist. We know he has an external problem, and he wants to solve that problem. His want is a desire for a future state. His goal is more tangible. It’s a point in time he has to reach. It’s the point at which he solves his external problem.
Readers want to know our protagonist’s goal, how he’s going to solve his external problem. They’re constantly asking themselves, “will Wild Bill reach his goal?” Readers likely won’t buy into our story if the protagonist’s goal is nebulous.
Would you get excited enough to invest ten or fifteen hours of your precious time in a story where the hero’s goal is to “feel better about himself”? Not likely. We want him to stop the serial killer. We want him to win the girl. We want him to discover the vaccine, win the election, or expose the conspiracy that sent an innocent man to prison.
Goals transform a random walk into a chase.Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
As you probably suspect. The protagonist goal (to be a fitting goal) takes a while to accomplish. Our hero’s journey, and thus our story’s plot, will comprise the steps he has to take to reach his goal.
It might take the entire novel. Or, our hero may accomplish it by the story’s midpoint. If the latter, the second half of our book will deal with the consequences of our protagonist reaching his goal. Maybe, he realizes, reaching his goal didn’t fulfill an inner need, and there’s something else he needs to do. Maybe he discovers there’s another wall to climb before learning the truth, or finding the princess.
It’s your turn. Take out a pencil and start brainstorming. If you haven’t already, give your protagonist an external problem, and describe what he wants. Finally, give him a clear and definitive goal.
In my next Beemgee post, we’ll consider our protagonist’s task.