Craft Book

Goal-setting in Creative Writing: Tip #4

Goal-setting for writersCONTROL

You are the only one who can be certain what is working in your life and what is not. Being in control of your life means taking responsibility for directing your behavior in any given situation to ensure a good outcome. One of the main prerequisites of NLP life coaching is to let the client define where he is currently ‘at’ and where he’d like to be by the end of the program.

Goal-setting requires CONTROL of the process

The desired outcome has to be initiated and maintained by you. Whether you set a goal to solve a problem or because your want to improve your performance in your career, relationships or your life in general, you have to define not only the desired outcome but every step along the way. An example would be if you wanted to become a published author:

  • What would you do to make literary agents aware of your need for representation?
    • Define the steps within this process
  • How would you persuade an interested agent that you’ve got what it takes to be a successful author?
    • Define the steps within this process
  • How would you help your agent to entice a publisher to offer you a book deal?
    • Define the steps within this process
  • What resources do you have to successfully handle the demands of being a published author, should you get a book deal?
    • Define the steps within this process

Goal-setting is also a LITERARY concept

Not only do goals motivate WRITERS to be productive and creative but they inspire the actions of STORY CHARACTERS too—on the flip side, however, their actions may lead to the breakdown of their goals.

I suggest you look at the value of control in the context of creative writing as it pertains to character development through a study of Lionel’s Shriver’s novel: So Much For That. You might want to refer to the introduction as well as #1, #2 and #3 of this series for a recap of the book description before continuing with this part of the discussion.

There is clear evidence at the start of the story, and throughout the book, that Shep Knacker is a person who takes control of his life and family, as well as for making ‘The Afterlife’ happening. Knowing at age sixteen that “you could at least survive in places like East Africa on a dollar a day,” inspired him to mold his life and career around the belief that “surely a middle-class American income still allowed for salting something away.” So, “with an eye to his true purpose—money—“ he established his own business at an early age, built it up while he and Glynis were raising their family, and soon sold it for a “million dollars.”

Goal-setting in creative writingOn the subject of story structure, we would expect a protagonist who is ‘in control’ at the start of the story to ‘lose it’ in the face of adversity. And we would hope that he ‘pulls himself together’ again to succeed in the end. In life coaching, I’ve often advised clients to focus on the aspects of their issue that they have control over, because what’s the use fretting over anything outside of your control? Imagine how you could portray a character with this attitude. My guess is he would come across as being ‘practical’ by nature—so, do you think this character would go into ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ in the face of adversity? What about the ‘control freak?’ Would you expect him to respond in a rational manner or would he be overcome by anxiety in the face of adversity? How would a ‘perfectionist’ react? Once again, I suggest you read So Much For That to see how Lionel Shriver puts her protagonist through his paces.

Can you recall a book or movie that features a protagonist who desired a certain outcome but lacked control over the process? What about Revolutionary Road by Yates—did Frank and April Wheeler do a good job of initiating and maintaining their goal to escape the American bourgeois values of the time? Did they ever realize their bohemian ideals in the end? Will Shep redirect his actions to solve his family crisis? Will he make ‘The Afterlife’ happen in the end? Remember, just as it’s your prerogative to define where you’re ‘at’ at any given point of your life, so can your protagonist give meaning to where he’s ‘at’ by the end of the story, whether he has achieved his initial goal or not—while story structure might be linear, life is about learning and growing and changing.

Follow my blog to learn more about CREATIVE WRITING as well as the dynamics of BEHAVIOR CHANGE and CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT and how to implement these concepts in storytelling. Please watch out for the publication of my creative writing guide (title and publication date TBA soon), which will offer a more comprehensive discussion on Story and Character Development based on a Life Coaching Model.

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8 thoughts on “Goal-setting in Creative Writing: Tip #4

  1. I’m not entirely sure that one necessarily needs to be in control of what’s going on in your life. It is more important to have the ability to influence people and events. This enables other to contribute freely (and feel good about it) and introduces the element of creativity that comes from having alternative approaches to tasks, situations and problems.

    If you read my book Man in a Mud Hut, you will meet Desmond, a man who arriving in Africa for the very first time found he had no control over his life. Having to survive in a mud walled village without any of the suburban facilities he took for granted, he suffered severe culture shock and felt was totally lost. Things only got worse when he went down to Nigeria and found himself facing rampant corruption and evil magic as well as having to cope with the steamy environment of a tropical forest region.
    His recovery really only began when he started to realise that his contributions to a project back in my village were being used to advantage. Then he opened like a flower and life did more than regain its shape, it blossomed and gave fruit. He still wasn’t in control, but he didn’t need to be, he had influence where it mattered.
    What you say about control being important to the writer is very true, whether in fiction or non-fiction, and the way you have explained it makes a useful foundation for any writer who needs to establish a plot because it manages the flow of the story. I only became aware of this point half way through writing Man in a Mud Hut, but I’m glad I did.
    An interesting post. Thanks.

  2. I agree, though there’s a big difference between ‘the notion of being in control of your life per se’ and ‘the strategy to take control of the process of goal achievement.’ I think it’s assumed that we sometimes fail at achieving a goal, or some aspect of it, because life intervenes and we’re not in control of external factors. While the article might not elucidate the differentiation sufficiently, it’s clearly written within the context of goal-setting.

  3. Hi Shirley, thanks for stopping by and giving feedback. In my w.i.p. book, I differentiate between characterization, character development and character transformation, the last two within the process of the protagonist’s key desire.

  4. Pingback: Goal-setting in Creative Writing: Tip #5 | My Rite of Passage

  5. Pingback: Goal-setting in Creative Writing: Tip #6 | My Rite of Passage

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