One thing to keep mind plotting a story is that there is a difference between a primary story goal and tasks protagonists undertake to achieve the primary story goal. For example, looking at the film The Blues Brothers, (1980 starring Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi, written by Dan Aykroyd and John Landis, directed by John Landis), the protagonist goal is to save the orphanage the two leads Jake and Elwood grew up in.
Primary Goal: Save the orphanage.
Major Dramatic Question: Can Jake and Elwood save the orphanage?
To save the orphanage —
Jake and Elwood will have to come up with cash to pay off back taxes the orphanage owes. To come up with that cash, they’ll have to get their band back together, find a large enough venue for a show to bring in the kind of cash they need to save the orphanage, promote the show to bring in the size audience they need to make that kind of cash, put on the show, and get the cash from the show to the county assessor’s office by a specific date and time when the cash is due.
All of those are tasks. Reassemble the band. Find a venue for a show. Promote the show. Put on the show. Collect the cash. Get the cash to the county assessor’s office on time.
Each of these tasks is undertaken in order to achieve the primary goal: Save the orphanage.
Each of these tasks is complicated by obstacles. Not all of the band members want to get back together, an ex fiancée of Jake’s is stalking him trying to kill him, law enforcement is after the guys trying to catch and arrest them, and the guys have enraged a country band they stole a show from that is out for blood AND a white supremacist group that is out to get them if the law and the bride-left-at-the-altar and the country band don’t get them first.
Those are all obstacles to completing the tasks. And the tasks are all about taking action to achieve the primary goal: Save the orphanage.
Bullet Pointing Those Out:
Goal: Save Orphanage
Major Dramatic Question: Can the guys save the orphanage?
•Get the band back together.
•Get a venue for a show.
•Promote the show.
•Put on the show.
•Collect the box office cash.
•Get cash to county assessor’s in time to pay off orphanage back taxes.
•Band members don’t want to get back together.
•Jake’s ex wants to kill Jake (and taking Elwood out at the same time is not a problem for her).
•Law enforcement wants to arrest Elwood (and Jake).
•Good Old Boys band members want to take down Elwood and Jake (and the band).
•White supremacists want to kill Elwood & Jake.
What informs tasks a protagonist or protagonists take on to accomplish a story goal is dictated by a protagonist’s (or protagonists’) background and skill set. Jake and Elwood are musicians, that’s what they take on as tasks trying to accomplish a goal that requires cash, put on a show.
A different character with a different background and skill set would choose a different set of tasks to make cash to save the orphanage. Deadpool, for example, probably wouldn’t be trying to put on a musical show to make cash. Deadpool is a mercenary soldier turned mutant who has a completely different skill set he would use in his own way to accomplish the goal “save the orphanage.” And this is often what makes stories about specific characters going after a goal intriguing and compelling. Not necessarilly the goal itself. But —
The skill set characters bring to a problem that dictate how those characters approach a story problem and what they set out to do to solve the story problem and accomplish a story goal. This is also, often, what results in the obstacles characters are facing off with when they try to complete those tasks.
Jake and Elwood have a knack for pissing off law enforcement, ex-girlfriends, white supremacists, and country western bands. Oops.
*As of the date of this posting, I believe The Blues Brothers (1980) is available to stream on HBO if anyone wants to catch it and see that playing out in action. It’s a very fun film that has weathered time pretty well (okay it feels a bit 80’s in some bits, but it still is weathering time pretty well) and it’s a great example of story leads with a defined goal taking on a solid set of tasks (and facing obstacles to accomplish them) in an effort to accomplish a primary story goal.