Why You Need Plot And Story Goals

stock-photo-8295173-colorful-book.jpgThis post will help you write better, write smarter and work more purposefully.

Plot is what happens in your story. The story goal is what your story is about. The two are not the same. But understandably, when you ask writers what their story is about they tell you what happened in it. When we begin typing our stories, most of us think along the lines of plot. Sometimes, our story goals are in the back of our heads and we are only conscious of them after we’ve finished writing our stories. Sometimes, we never are.

A plot points us to the (major) events or conflicts in a story. A story goal looks at the concept or idea behind a story, the subtext of what the writer portrayed, if you like. Plots give stories a direction. Story goals give stories meaning. Without a clear plot, the story delves into unconnected subplots or sub-storylines, and in the end, the writing seems unplanned–like a mesh of motley smaller stories–as if the writer is making things up as he goes. Without a clear story goal, the story does not seem to have a point to it, as if the writer told a story purely for the sake of putting down words on paper and ended up wasting the reader’s time. How simple or complex your plot determines your story’s length while how rich your story goal determines its (proverbial) depth.

A lot of us like the plots we come up with and can’t believe it when we send it to a publisher and it is rejected. But if we could only see our story goals, or the lack of it, we would probably understand why it was a hard sell.

So let’s have a little fun on this discussion, shall we? Let’s make it interactive. Please share the plot summary and the story goal of the last two stories you wrote (or any two stories you’ve written). Don’t use proper nouns and be as brief and clear as possible. When giving a plot summary, stick to the main plot (no subplots) and when giving the story goal start,

(Title of Story) is about…

Let me demonstrate what I mean with the last movie to win an Oscar for best picture: Birdman.

Birdman

Plot Summary:

A washed up actor, most famous for playing a comic book superhero, is trying to re-establish himself as a true artist by writing, directing, starring in and co-producing, with his best friend, his Broadway debut, an adaptation of a Raymond Carver story.

Then you can rewrite the plot summary and fit in proper names like this:

Riggan Thomas is a washed up actor, most famous for playing a comic book superhero, Birdman. He is trying to re-establish himself as a true artist by writing, directing, starring in and co-producing–with his best friend, Jake–his Broadway debut, an adaptation of a Raymond Carver story, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.

Please send in both versions (with proper nouns and without proper nouns). Label them Plot Summary 1 and 2.

Story Goal

Birdman is the story of a man putting everything on the line, and ready to do anything to gain respect (as an actor), about a man dealing with senescence and a legacy he is not proud of and desperately trying to rewrite.

Here are the Plot Summaries of the last two stories I wrote:

  1. Zanna

Plot Summary 1:

A mentally challenged boy being raised by an elderly priest has a secret he was frightened into not revealing: the priest’s much younger assistant is sexually abusing him. Things begin to unravel when his elder sister comes to visit and catches him showing a girl his manhood.

Plot Summary 2:

Ogadinma is a mentally challenged boy being raised by an elderly parish priest, Nwabueze. He has a secret he was frightened into not revealing: Nwabueze’s much younger assistant priest is sexually abusing him. Things begin to unravel when his elder sister, Suzanna–whom he calls Zanna– comes to visit and catches him showing a girl his manhood.

Story Goal:

 ‘Zanna’ tells the story of how the individual interests of people expected to be looking after a mentally challenged boy are not helping his plight.

Little Gods

Plot Summary 1:

A seemingly delusional elderly woman finally reunites with her twin
soul, a lover with whom she shared a healing synergy.

Plot Summary 2:

Moji, a seemingly delusional elderly woman finally reunites with her twin soul, Taiwo, a lover with whom she shared a healing synergy.

Story Goal:

Little Gods tells the story of an old woman coming to terms with being abandoned by a lover, with being forced to carve out a life she would not have chosen on her own, and eventually making peace with the past, the present and the future.

The Dream

Plot Summary 1:

A frustrated psychologist, resentful of church ministers, goes after a faith healer who performed exorcism on an ADHD sufferer, trying to expose him as a fraud.

Plot Summary 2:

Bob-Manuel Efiong-Bassey is a frustrated psychologist, resentful of church ministers. He goes after a faith healer, Reverend Wambebe, who performed exorcism on an ADHD sufferer, trying to expose him as a fraud.

Story Goal

The Dream is a story where the narrator is the protagonist’s advocate, and the reader, the judge. It’s a story that shows how perspective can change after listening to the whole story.

What are you working on? Write your plot summary and story goals. Share your experiences with us.

 Charles Opara writes fiction and non-fiction. His short story, The Dream, was recently nominated for the Fiction Desk Newcomer’s Awards.

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