Whether you’re writing a picture book for young children or a novel for middle grade students or teens, your main character must have a goal. In the picture book, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, the pigeon is determined to drive. Dorothy’s goal in the Wizard of Oz is to return to her home. Harry Potter’s goal is to overcome the Dark wizard Lord Voldemort and not be destroyed by him.
The plot of a story is the sequence of events that happen as characters try to reach major or minor goals, while the story goal is the dilemma the main character or protagonist wants to resolve or the big dream he or she wants to attain. When you tell someone about a movie or book, you probably start with the story goal because you tell them about one or more characters and what situation they want to change.
So decide—what does your picture book character desire? What do the main and secondary characters in your middle grade novel want to happen?
Does a three-year old want to make her own sandwich?
Does Bear want to be on time to Squirrel’s party?
Does Julie want to get the lead in the school play?
Does Daniel need to help his widowed mother make money?
Must a character get a message to someone in danger?
Does a teen desperately need to find a family heirloom?
Does one friend need to make amends to another?
You must know what your character wants. Make a list of possible goals for the character or characters you want to write about. Unless you’re writing a humorous story or fantasy, a character’s goal must be logical and believable for his or her age and situation. And even in fantasy, the goal must work within the system of the make-believe world you create. In our workbook, Write a Marketable Children’s Book in 7 Weeks, we expand on these ideas in Chapter Two and also on pp. 51 and 52.
Get busy and brainstorm.
Choosing the story goal is the first step in building a story—the first step in plotting.