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I decided to give a try to the snowflake method. The idea is that you gradually expand the story from a blurb into a full draft. This question stems from the character-characterization step, but it applies in general to the understanding of a character.

I am at the point in which I need to clarify an abstract goal and a concrete goal for each character. My issue is that I first came up with the plot, and then fleshed out characters to fit their purpose. Now I have a character whose abstract goal should be

vengeance

and their concrete goal is

exacting revenge against the (yet to be found) perpetrators of (a certain action)

I have the impression that this is not quite correct. It feels too monolithic and one-sided to have any chances to succeed as an interesting character.

To give a parallel, if you are familiar with Hamlet, from the plot I would have characterised the abstract and concrete goals for the MC as 'avenging his father' and 'punishing the uncle' respectively. On the other hand, perhaps I am completely missing the point and the abstract goal should be along the lines of 'Setting a role model for Denmark, as befitting of a future king'.

The question is: how to flesh out the abstract goal for a character when the plot is formed but the characters still need to be fully crafted?

A related snowflake question, for those who are not familiar with the approach.

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I never used the snowflake method myself, even if I gave it a look sometime ago.

The problem with your abstract and concrete goals is that one is the specialization of the other. After all "killing X because it did Y" is just a particular instance of "vengeance". So they are basically the same goal.

Another problem with this is that the abstract goal feels too abstract. Vengeance doesn't work without context, unless you want to write a character who wants to avenge everyone from the wrongdoings of everyone else. This somewhat remind me of Marvel's Punisher, but I may err.

You're rightly worried - it may be difficult to build an interesting character with this premise.

What it seems to me is that you have a possible case of characters waiting for the plot. You need someone to carry out a revenge, so you make vengeance his ultimate goal. That will give you a very focused character, but maybe an unrealistic, carton-board one. In order to feel real and interesting, characters must be complete - they can't be just props that spring up into motion as the plot happens.

Brandon Sanderson described this in one of his youtube lessons: imagine the plot as a train, driving the story forward. Characters can't be just people stainding near the rails, with grappling hooks, waiting for the train to get by and drag them on. They will eventually board the passenger wagon and they will eventually exit, but they must exist outside of it. They must have reasons to get in and get out. The plot is allowed to take their lives and change them drastically, maybe even end them, but it should not define ultimately who they are.

Maybe a possible solution would be make the abstract goal different from the concrete one. The character must know, on some level, what he wants to do after he carries out his vengeance.

"I won't have peace until I'll see them in the grave" Jack said. "Then, maybe, I'll lay down my weapons and I'll go back to farming. Things will never be as they were, but I dream of dying in my armchair, looking at my apple orchard, as the sun sets."

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    I agree with you on what the actual problem is. "Vengeance" here is simply the concrete goal stated with less concrete detail. It is neither a separate goal nor an abstract one. The example you give does help in that it expands the concrete goal to have more depth which is good but I think an actual abstract goal would be along the lines of "justice" or "grief" for the vengeance and "peace" or "closure" for going back to farming. The difference matters because concrete goals affect what you do while the abstract goals shape who you are and how you think. – Ville Niemi Apr 3 at 15:26
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    And yes, you can cheat by deriving the concrete goals from the plot and the abstract goals from the concrete ones. – Ville Niemi Apr 3 at 15:28
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I think an abstract goal needs to be more useful as a life philosophy than you can make "vengeance." If that is my life goal, what do I do on idle Sundays, ask neighbors if I can take some vengeance on their behalf?

I'd come up with an abstract goal of a hero that allows them to do good for others even if there is no vengeance that needs taking. Something that, outside of this particular need to exact vengeance, has some application in making the world a better place.

But that is leaning toward the good, you could write an anti-hero and lean toward the selfish. Either way, your abstract goal should be a much broader life philosophy than just a one-word summary of his task in this story. It should inform the rest of his personality and approach to life, and that will make him a less shallow character.

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I haven't read the Snowflake Method in-depth, but my intuition is that your concrete goal is too abstract it you haven't figured out the justification yet.

Why does this character specifically care so much about this specific act? Why would they continue to focus on revenge for this act for an extended period of time? If they found out that the perpetrator was someone close to them, would they still be so focused on revenge? If you ask why enough times, you may end up with a much more fleshed out character.

For example, let's say you have a character (call him Smith) who wants to take revenge on the people who burned down his family home. Why wasn't he home when it burned down? He was away at school studying something completely unrelated to farming. If he wasn't interested in farming then, why does he care so much now? Now he feels that he betrayed his family and this is the only way he could make it up to them. Maybe he's ashamed that he secretly wished for a fire and this helps him hide his grief. Otherwise maybe he's pretty sure it's Todd's fault and the thing that's really driving him is that he's hated how Todd made fun of the farm ever since he was little.

In some episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Kira Nerys is defined by her quest for vengeance. As long as she's finding the perpetrator of a crime, she doesn't have to deal with her grief. Javier from Les Miserables is focused on Justice, but the effect on the plot is similar to Vengeance.

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