The worst thing that can happen to any story is that it gets boring because audiences have no idea why they’re watching a scene. Therefore the key to telling a story is to start with a major goal that never gets answered until the end.
To keep the story moving forward, you also need minor goals for the hero to pursue. Just as the hero succeeds in one minor goal, another one pops up. This never-ending flow of mini-goals keeps the story moving as long as each mini-goal supports the major goal of the story.
In “The Hunger Games,” the major goal from the start is for the hero to protect her little sister. This major goal gets answered in the end when the hero, Katniss, survives the Hunger Games and comes back home to help protect her little sister once more. The major goal looks like this:
- Will Katniss be able to protect her little sister?
- Katniss is able to protect her little sister.
In between these major goals are the mini-goals that keep the story moving forward and then dealing with the consequences afterwards. During the lottery when tributes are selected, Katniss’s little sister does get picked. That immediately makes the hero’s goal easy: volunteer in her little sister’s place.
Once the hero achieves this goal to protect her little sister, she has another mini-goal, which is to learn what it takes to survive. Mini-goals drive the story forward and when the hero achieves this mini-goal, it continues pushing the story forward because the hero needs to deal with the consequences of having achieved this mini-goal like this:
- Hero needs to know how to survive the Hunger Games. She learns it’s to get sponsors to like her so they’ll send her critical items that she needs.
- Once she knows survival depends on sponsors liking you, her next mini-goal is to get people to notice her so they can possibly like her. To do this, her stylist creates a flashy costume that looks like she’s on fire.
- To further get people to like her, she needs to get a high score from the judges. To do this, she shoots an arrow at the apple in a pig’s mouth that the judges are about to eat, shocking them.
- Once she gets a high score, she now needs to enter the Hunger Games and survive. To do this, she barely escapes with her life by grabbing a backpack and escaping into the woods.
- When the game maker forces her back towards the other tributes, her next mini-goal is to survive the forest fire driving her back towards the center of the arena. To do this, she runs away and winds up being chased by the other tributes.
- Now her mini-goal is to get away from the tributes. To do this, she climbs a tree.
- When a fellow tribute (named Rue) points out a wasp nest, her new mini-goal is to cut it down so it lands among the tributes camped out at the bottom of the tree.
Notice that there’s always a mini-goal driving the story forward? Watch a bad movie and you’ll often find the story coming to a complete stop where you have no idea what the hero plans to do next. By constantly creating mini-goals for the hero to pursue and achieve, and then deal with the consequences, you can create a story that’s constantly moving forward until the very end.