Because they have to achieve something, no?
Otherwise, what the heck did we just spend 100,000 words with them for!
Have you wondered why some characters truly seem to live on in your mind, while others fade like mist dissipating under the sun?
Achievement is a big part of that answer.
Even if you’re writing a series, and the plotline and characters continue on, each book must stand on its own, and the Protagonist has to reach his goal. Even if that only speaks to part of the goal.
It sounds simple. And it is!
We found out in part 1 of this series, who our hero was. We did the exercises, watched what she did, identified why she refused the Call in the first place, and then saw what propelled her on to take the challenge.
In part 4, we identified what she learned—which of course spoke to what we found out about her in part 1. We saw her mastering the skills she needed in order to keep herself and the plot moving forward. And thus avoided those dreaded sagging middles.
Now, as we’re coming full circle, into the climactic action of the book, whether our hero is successful comes to the fore.
Just imagine it this way for a minute: All novels have a Holy Grail, for which the hero is striving. As we talked before, the outer goals and conflicts mirror the inner ones, so what he achieves outwardly also brings him an internal boon.
For example, take Romantic Suspense. Our hero is trying to solve something, to keep a bad event from occurring—for herself, although almost always for the community at large as well. But she perhaps needed to join forces with the male detective in order to do so, and, of course there’s a big spark (this is Romance!), and, well, she has commitment issues, distrusts men, etc., for any of a litany of reasons.
In finally agreeing to work with him (and seeing where that takes them personally, because if Romance, it takes them to romantic interludes), she’s overcome at least her initial fear of abandonment (or whatever her core issue is), and together they save the day.
She’s not only achieved her outward goal—finding the serial killer so no other women become victims, etc. But she’s also taken a huge leap in her own consciousness, by facing that core fear, and now that’s behind her as well.
Perhaps not surprisingly, it doesn’t have to be completely behind her! Especially if, again, this is a series. But she has to have mastered a big piece of it for the story, and therefore the series, to go on.
Sometimes the hero dies in the end. But the goal is still achieved. An example would be Augustus McCrae from Lonesome Dove, who of course dies well before the end, but without him, the group never would have gotten to their goal—opening up a route to Montana, before the wildness was gone.
The achievement is shared with both Gus and Cap’n Call, one who died, and one who lived.
And here’s a central key: The “bigger” your book, the bigger the achievement must be.
In other words, if you’re writing about men conquering the West, then you need the huge achievement of blazing a new trail to another land. If you’re writing Contemporary Romance, the major achievement (along with the main plot) is boy and girl end up together, happily ever after.
The Authurian myths dealt with the literal Holy Grail.
As mythologist Joseph Campbell said, “The Grail becomes the—what can we call it?—that which is attained and realized by people who have lived their own lives. The Grail represents the fulfillment of the highest spiritual potentialities of the human consciousness.”
But I’m not writing about the highest spiritual potentialities of the human consciousness! you say.
I understand (unless you are :)). But in metaphor, whatever the goal of your novel is, equals your character’s Holy Grail. Thinking in those terms helps you to keep that front and center in your mind as you’re writing.
Most importantly: That’s your main story question. And every single scene has to have a piece of that story question.
So what your character achieves, no matter your genre, needs to be revered by you, the author, as your own (and her) Holy Grail.
Even if you write from Discovery, you pretty much have to have a sense of what the main character achieves. It’s the central point of your book.
So it all adds up to this: Don’t take this lightly!
What are you waiting for? Go write your own terrific novel.