Goal Oriented versus Task Oriented

In a couple of writing workshops I’ve attended, writers were encouraged to think of goals for each character, ie, a challenge or problem the character had to overcome which would signify change in the character.

This is all fine and dandy, and seems to work for some people. The problem I always had that I struggled to conceptualize a goal-oriented challenge for a character. I never entirely know what a character wants or needs until I get there with them.

I was jotting down notes on my latest work in progress, and wrangling with that old issue of not being able to understand a goal for each character. But when I read over my notes I realized: my aims were task-oriented, not goal-oriented. Meaning: my characters had tasks they needed to accomplish, rather than a particular, overarching goal. and these tasks meant the ultimate outcome was open-ended, or that some arcs would remain unresolved, simply because a task-oriented approach allows that.


I never thought of it that way, so I was ridiculously pleased and a little “mind blown” by it. It’s always nice when you understand your own writing process better. You spend far less energy when you know and honor your own process rather than trying to abide by someone else’s.

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