Goals vs. Purposes

When defnining characters or groups of characters, it is important to differentiate between their goals and their purposes.  Goals are the specific set of circumstances the character of group hopes to achieve.  But purposes are the overarching conditions they hope the goal will bring about.

it is a misconception to think characters are ever driven to achieve goals in and of themselves.  For example, suppose a character’s goal it to become president of the United States.  Ask yourself why he would want to achieve that and you have his real purpose.  Using our example, this character might have had no power as a child and believes that by becoming president, he will satisfy that feeling of powerlessness.  Another character might want to become president because he believes that our moral values have eroded, and he wishes the bully pulpit so that he might reverse that trend.

You may note that while goals are very specific, purposes are more generalized.  This is because goals are based on our logic and purposes on our emotions.  So, one does not have a goal to be happy or to feel respected – those are purposes.  But, obtaining the love of another or becoming a captain of industry might be goals that would satisfy those two purposes, respectively.

Of course, any single goal might be seen as the means to arrive at any number of different purposes, depending upon the emotional needs of the individual (or the emotional needs of the group, as a group psychology).  Similarly, any particular purpose might be achieved by any number of goals, depending on the logistic circumstances and resources available to the individual or group.

In addition, while goals may be either  a single items everyone is after, such as several suitors trying to obtain the affection of the same girl, they might also be collective goals in which all the suitors are after love, but not of the the same girl.  Similarly, purposes can be conditional, such as to be happy, or they can be experiential, such as to enjoy every day to the fullest.

Structurally, you can find goals in the Dramatica Table of Story Elements in the second level from the top – the “Type” level, at which one finds such categories or families of goals as those pertaining to “Obtaining,” Doing,” “Becoming,” or “Being,” for example.  Similarly, purposes can be found at the very top level of the table – the “Class” level, where you will find “Situation,” “Attitude,” “Activities,” and “Manners of Thinking.”

In conclusion, look behind your character’s goal for the emotional condition that is really driving them to achieve the goal, and consider whether or not such a goal could actually bring about that condition or if your character is deluding himself and cannot achieve his purpose even if he achieves his goal.

~~Melanie Anne Phillips
Co-creator, Dramatica