Napoleon’s Goal

After taking a writing workshop from Martine Leavitt, I feel immoral if I write a first chapter—let alone a first page—without letting my readers know what my main character’s goal is. How can readers root for the character if what the character wants isn’t clear? I like Martine’s head-on approach. But I’ve also noticed subtler plots that seem to work well.

Who likes Napoleon Dynamite?

What’s his goal?

How do you know if he succeeds?

On first viewing, I’m not sure I could have answered these questions, but I still liked him and wanted him to win. Later, I caught what it was I’d been rooting for all along. The inciting incident happens at Rex Kwon Do, propelling Napoleon and his brother Kip on their journeys toward self-respect.

Poor Napoleon. He tries so hard.

Like Rex advises, he adopts the buddy system. Pedro has his back.

Like Rex advises, he disciplines his image. (Check out the bad-boy parachute pants he starts wearing.)

But he does not succeed at learning self-respect until he goes from dancing behind closed doors at home to dancing in front of the whole school. He learns to be himself. And everyone loves him for it, including me.

Tell me what characters you love, how clear or subtle their goals are from the beginning, and why the author’s choice works. Or the opposite—what characters you hate and why the author’s choices don’t work for you.

And also, tell me your favorite Napoleon Dynamite scene or quote! For today, this is mine:

“Do the chickens have large talons?”


“Large talons.”

“I don’t understand a word you just said.”




Filed under characters, Plot, Writing Tip

5 responses to “Napoleon’s Goal

  1. Valynne

    Ah, I love that movie. My brother is actually friends with Jon Heder.

  2. Carl

    What the heck are you guys trying to do!? Ruin my life and make me look like a freakin idiot!?

  3. You know that movie was made in my hometown of Preston, Idaho??? You’re right about the plot, though. Very subtle and tricky to figure out what the conflict is, what his goals are, etc. All the things you supposedly HAVE TO HAVE to BE SUCCESSFUL. So go figure. Why haven’t I been reading your blog? I too liked those Sweet Valley Twins.

    • Kim Reid

      DeAnn, I have to go to Preston on a weekday next time so I can find out all the famous Napoleon sites. Last time I was there, it was Saturday and the chamber of commerce was closed!