Story Goals, Questions, and Ambitions

Question Marks


I know several of my readers are preparing for NaNoWriMo. Even if you’re not, if you’re reading this blog you are probably a fiction writer. One of the first things you should do when planning for a novel (or short story) is to come up with a story goal, question, and ambition. What are all these?

The story question is a simple yes or no question which the reader more than likely already knows the answer to. Will Luke Skywalker defeat the Empire? The answer is “yes,” and you know that because you know there is a happy ending. “Will Romeo and Juliet be together?” has a negative answer because Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy.

The base of the story question is the story ambition. The ambition is abstract, meaning it’s an idea. Could you photograph Luke defeating the Empire? Not really. Randy Ingermanson uses The Lord of the Rings as an example, where the ambition is to defeat Sauron:

[D]efeating Sauron is abstract…What does it look like to defeat Sauron? It could look like many things — cutting off Sauron’s head, or vaporizing him with an atom bomb, or feeding him a live grenade and letting it explode. You can photograph any of those. You can’t photograph “defeat.” That’s too vague. (Constructing Your Story Goal, Advanced Fiction Writing Blog)

Same thing with my Star Wars example. Luke could decapitate the Emperor, he could feed him to the Ewoks, or not even kill him at all. Maybe Luke could find a way to take the throne for himself.

The story ambition is what your characters ultimately want to do, usually for the sake of peace or happiness. The ambition drives the goal, or how your characters want to achieve their ambition. In The Lord of the Rings, the concrete goal is to throw the Ring into the Cracks of Doom. The Ring will be destroyed, and Sauron will be defeated. As Randy explains, This goal is concrete because you can photograph it. You can picture this, even if you haven’t seen the movies or read the books.



The goal in the Star Wars trilogy (I pretend episodes 1, 2, and 3 don’t exist), the goal is to destroy the Death Star while Vader and Palpatine are on board. That would destroy the Empire (and the Sith), thus accomplishing the story ambition and answering the story question. You can photograph the destruction of the Death Star, making it a concrete goal.

What is the question, ambition, and goal for your story? If you’re not sure, try filling in this sentence: “The protagonist wants to [ambition] by [goal].” The plot is about how the protagonist reaches her goal.

I’ll share mine as a final example:

  • Question: Will Natiae save the human race from extinction?
  • Ambition: Save the human race from extinction.
  • Goal: Negotiate a cease-fire with the Elari leader.
  • Natiae wants to save the human race from extinction by negotiating a cease-fire with the Elari leader.

What about you? Answer in the comments!

Plagiarism is bad! Everything on this blog is © Ishana Mayakashi and Resplendence, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from Ishana Mayakashi or comment author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Ishana Mayakashi and Resplendence or the comment author with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


About Squishy

Writer, dancer, gamer, and admirer of all that is beautiful.

Posted on October 8, 2010, in Ishy Writes! and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Hmm… When I think about this, I realize that neither of my biggest story ideas (last and this year’s NaNoWriMo ideas) are developed enough to answer these questions. Both are designed as at least trilogies, though, so maybe that’s okay at this point. Definitely something for me to think about, though…

    Oh, and although I’ve never actually read Romeo & Juliet, as I understood it they DID end up together, just dead. Such is the nature of tragedy, after all.

    • Even books in a series should be able to sell as stand-alone novels. Meredith actually has a fantastic post about this on Fiction Workbench I suggest you read if you’re writing a series. For a series, there should generally be an overall goal throughout, but each book should have its own story goal and ambition.

      Of course, rules are more like guidelines, anyway.

      • I do have them thought out to stand alone, but in both cases neither the overarching plot nor the specific plot are particularly explicit; the characters seem to be going with the flow more than questing after a specific objective. I’ll take a look at that post, and try and sort out my thoughts better afterwards.

      • Upon reflection, it seems to me that the plot of one could be seen as the gathering of the main characters, and the other is probably undefinable because it’s still very much in its infancy.

  2. I really like this post. It has given me something to think about as I outline and figure out the details of my project.


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