First off, what is the difference between an external goal and an internal goal.
An external goal is the concrete goal of the main character, the thing he or she wants, which prompts the choices that move the plot.
An internal goal has more to do with why that character wants something or what motivates the character.
Let's say a boy wants to win the school science fair. He works really hard making a volcano. His external goal is to win the fair. But why does he care so much? Because he wants to impress his father. That's the internal goal.
In THE GREAT PAPER CAPER by Oliver Jeffers, there's a bear tunning around the forest cutting down trees so that he can make paper from them. You see, he's desperate to win a paper airplane contest.
External goal: Win paper airplane contest.
There's a beautiful illustration of the bear admiring his father and his grandfather's past victories.
Internal goal: Join family tradition of winning airplane competition.
Now, the beautiful thing about external and internal goals is that the internal goal is more important. So, as long as your character achieves the internal goal, it's OK if they don't achieve the external goal.
In THOSE SHOES by Maribeth Boelts, illustrated by Noah Z. Jones, Jeremy wants a new pair of super cool athletic shoes that are black with two white stripes.
The problem is, his family can't afford the costly shoes. They have some money, but they use it to buy Jeremy snow boots instead. To make matters worse, other kids in school are coming in with those shoes. To make matters even worse, Jeremy's own shoes fall apart at school and he has to accept charity shoes with embarrassing cartoon characters on them.
He eventually finds the exact pair of shoes he wants at a thrift shop, but they are too small. Still, Jeremy buys them with his own money and keeps them at home. Jeremy has a friend with smaller feet who has noticed Jeremy's new shoes.
In the end, Jeremy gives the shoes to his friend, then he is the only one without the new, cool shoes. But then it snows, and everyone has to switch into their boots. Jeremy has a brand new pair of snow boots. So he goes out to play in his boots and he is happy.
Even though Jeremy never got a pair of those shoes, he is happy in his boots. Why? Because he wanted the shoes to fit in. He wanted the shoes so that he could have something new. He wanted the shoes so that he wasn't wearing a constant reminder that his family has less money than the other kids.
Those are his internal goals, and they all are met when all the kids are forced to wear their snow boots.
In MONKEY ONO, Monkey Ono wants to go to the beach. That's the external goal: beach day. But I state pretty early in the text that he likes to do particular things: soak his feet, build sand castles, and watch fishies. So even though he doesn't get the big external goal of a beach day, because he is able to make the smaller aspects of that goal happen at home, he's still happy.
I should note that MONKEY ONO is a good example of a thin internal goal. Monkey Ono just wants to be happy. It has nothing to do with family or self-esteem or security. Making sand castles makes him happy. His internal goal is simply happiness.
And that's OK too.
So take a look at your favorite stories. What are the external goals? What are the internal goals? Does the character achieve them both? Or just one?
Thanks for stopping in!
Happy Labor Day!
PS - I'm going to launch the Autumn Litwits Log tomorrow, so if you haven't signed up and you'd like to, do it today and you won't miss out. Sign up here.