Character Goal! Goal! Goals!
What do you want to be when you grow up?
Anyone who has ever been a kid has had to answer this question. If they were like me it came at the most unexpected time and you blurted out the first thing that came to mind. 'I want to make video games.' But deep down you were thinking I want to be a superhero. Or maybe a crime fighting squirrel or gunslinging princess. Parents say to dream big right? Surprisingly both of the answers I mentioned have helped to shape who I am today. 'An engineer with a penchant for the fantastic.'
In the same way this question can be used to give our character goals. The fastest way to achieve this would be to literally ask "What do you want to be?" or "Who are you?" in the dialogue. This will get the job done but in my opinion that is the lazy way out. Plus it has little impact to the audience. The best way is to show the character's goals through their actions. One of my favorite examples is the opening scene to the video game The Last of Us.
What if our character does not know their goal or even worse they have none? Well the question still works. If they have none, all we need to do is ask your character "Who do you want to be?" and tell the story of them finding it. However, if we do not know their goal it's we need to take a step back and figure out who the heck we want them to be.
What about when your character loses their goal?
In The Last of Us the main character Joel is a survivor of a world wide disease and a protector of those he cares about. At the beginning of the story he protects his daughter, but as you may guess from the picture above she dies in his arms. He loses his goal, his meaning in life but he is still a survivor and deep down he wants to still be a protector. The rest of the story is exactly what I mentioned above, the journey of finding a new goal.
Goals are very power tools but not only for the protagonist, they can be used to add depth to supporting characters and most important the villain. Which brings me to my last point, competing goals. When two characters the same goal it innately creates conflict between them. Perhaps it is a competitive drive or a murderous hatred. Regardless conflict is an essential ingredient for pulling emotion out of our characters. And what happens when a character experiences emotion?
That's right, the audience feels something. Which at the end of the day is what storytelling is all about.