“Objective” is defined as: Object, purpose, aim, point, idea, goal, intention, intent or reason.
Every moment of every day each of us is trying to achieve something, trying to fulfill some goal. It may be as simple as trying to make a cup of tea or read an article in the newspaper or as complex as solving some mathematical equation or making a life decision. Regardless, they are all goals.
We are always aimed at something, moving toward some purpose, trying to accomplish some task. Some scholars have said that this is what makes all living creatures, from ants to astronauts, unique. And there are other scholars who claim that even plants have objectives, clear goals such as “reach for the sunlight,” “absorb the moisture,” “survive.”
It is the survival part that is the most interesting. Not only are we all trying to fulfill our objectives in order to survive – but, without the ability and desire to pursue objectives we would perish. We breathe because we need the air and we need the air in order to breathe. The balance of nature.
We usually don’t spend a lot of time analyzing our individual objectives. We spend more energy following them, trying to fulfill them and often trying to explain them either to ourselves or to others. And we’re always curious about the objectives of others: “How are you doing?” “What are you up to?” How’s it going?” “What’s happening?”
And many of us believe we are defined by our objectives, by what we pursue and by our success or failure to accomplish said objectives. But if we would really lift the cover and look at all of our objectives we would discover a rat’s nest of desires, motivations, dreams and fears as complex as the legendary Gordian Knot.
And if we looked deep enough we would also realize that at every moment there are two primary objectives attempting to be fulfilled. And we would see that these two objectives are very often incompatible or in direct conflict with each other.
Here’s a simple way of looking at this phenomenon.
First, there are our Public Objectives. These are the answers we give when asked, “What are you doing?” “What do you want?” The Public Objective is the pursuit that we are willing to admit, to acknowledge. This is the way we see it, this is our rationalization for our behavior, for our choice, for our priorities. It’s the objective that we can live with, the one we want to define us, how we want to be perceived.
Then there are the Private Objectives. These are often unconscious or lodged so deeply in our subconscious that we have lost awareness of them. But they are there. They are primal. This is where the survival instinct resides. These are the real reasons why we make the choices we make. These define who we really are, which is most often markedly different from the way we wish to be perceived.
These objectives are designed and driven by forces shaped and informed by every life experience we have ever had. This world within us is so complex and frightening, thrilling and rich with possibilities, problems and the toxins and tonics of our lives that most of us opt for the much safer environment of the Public Objective so when we are asked “How are you doing?” we can just say, “Fine.”
But how does this relate to the characters we are creating, the stories we are telling?
When you look at the Private Objectives of any character you are writing or examining you are looking at the center of their life force. They are not their behavior. They are not what they say or do. They are not their accomplishments or failures. They are what they are trying to be. They are what they are capable of becoming. They are what they fear becoming. They are their own chaos.
As storytellers when we begin to construct our fictional characters we want to learn who they are by glimpsing at that private world that is so illusive and that often defies definition. So we write behavior and dialogue. We scribble out volumes of back-story and history. We create character journals and let the characters speak to us.
But those characters are going to be just as illusive and protective, frightened and naïve as we are. And no matter how adept or adroit we are, they will still remain a mystery. Many of us want to believe we can know our characters better than ourselves. But that is our wish for ourselves, the way we would like to perceive ourselves as creative artists.
The truth is, a significant part of our Private Objective is the creation of fictional and mythological characters in an admirable attempt to understand to understand our own Private Self. It’s much safer to look at our own personal chaos if we can break it up into little manageable groups and then assign these attributes to fictional characters that can then deal with the pain and problems, fears and fantasies of being us.
As writers we are all locked in that Gorian Knot, that maze of needs and desires, goals and objectives that live within us and within our characters. And the more we understand that the challenges we create in our characters are merely projections of the challenges we are unwilling to face or acknowledge, the more authentic our work will become.