Fictivity: Setting a Goal
The usual advice that you can read in a thousand other books about achieving goals is to set the goal and then break that goal down into achievable targets and plan how to achieve those. That’s all very well and can work.
But when you take a closer look at the mechanics of what is occurring, it becomes clear that what drives this little machine is the emptiness between the starting point and the goal.
In other words, let’s say you had a goal to have more money. You can break this down into as many sub-targets as you wish — but the force driving you through each sub-target towards the overall goal is the big emptiness created as soon as you set the goal. If you were to suddenly find the amount of money that you set the goal to achieve, that particular machine would stop.
Desire creates emptiness; emptiness moves us.
Sometimes breaking the goal down into smaller, do-able parts, as recommended in many writings about goal setting, works to reduce this driving power. A tiny target of ‘Send out five emails today’ has less innate power than ‘Make a million’. The vacuum created by that absent million is what needs to be kept at the forefront of one’s mind to keep the goal-achieving machine running. Larger goals and challenges possess more vacuum power.
To put it even more simply will reduce it to an almost absurd tautology. But here goes:
If I want a new kitchen table and a new kitchen table exactly like the one I want suddenly appears in front of me, what happens to my want? It vanishes. I have no need to go to the furniture shop. I have no need to move at all.
If I want a new kitchen table, what is it that makes me get up and go and get one? The absence of that table, the fact that it is missing, the vacuum created by its absence coupled with my desire to fill that absence.
It would be as though there is a vacuum, shaped exactly like the table I want, sitting in the middle of the room. What will it take to fill it? Something will have to happen; things will have to occur in the universe; action will have to take place. Is this action caused by the table?
No, quite the reverse. If the table appears, there is no need for action.
The action is caused by the absence of the table.
People motivated to achieve wealth are motivated by the absence of wealth.
People motivated to acquire property are motivated by the absence of property.
People motivated by achieve love are motivated by a perceived absence of love.
It’s such a simple principle, but the world of fiction writing will open up to its full richness if you can apply this principle completely.
The diagram above reminds us of what really powers goals effectively.
You’ll be able to appreciate now that this increased power comes from the fact that a stronger vacuum is contacted and used to drive thing forward.
Why isn’t this more widely known?
It sort of is. It’s the principle behind every successful novel, every movie deal, every closed sale, every satisfied reader or viewer.
People are motivated by emptinesses, lacks, missing things, absences. Emptinesses, lacks, missing things, absences are created by desire.
For the purposes of this series, we are going to call these emptinesses 'vacuums' because what we know about vacuums in the physical universe will help us to understand how they work. Much more about vacuums and how they work to create successful fiction is available in my book How Stories Really Work, from which some of this material is taken.
Definitions of a Vacuum
Here are some text book definitions of a 'vacuum':
vacuum: 'A space entirely devoid of matter; a space or container from which the air has been completely or partly removed; a gap left by the loss, death, or departure of someone or something formerly playing a significant part in a situation or activity.'
Of course, as we know 'Nature abhors a vacuum' and vacuums tend to suck things into them or to have an attractive power with regard to their surroundings.
We can slightly re-define this for our purposes based on what we know about the properties of vacuums.
A vacuum is defined as that emptiness or absence of something which draws anyone or anything in the vicinity of the vacuum towards whatever it is that is missing.
It could be further refined in its definition, because the things most likely to be attracted to a particular vacuum are the particular things which have that vacuum’s shape. So, in the case of the kitchen table, a table-shaped vacuum is going to attract a table-shaped object.
What does this have to do with writing stories?
Imagine your story — any story that you have written — as a vacuum, whether it is imperfectly crafted or not. That story, though it is probably possible to improve its ‘vacuum power’, has a certain amount of innate ‘vacuumness’ about it: its protagonist probably has a deep-felt need; its plot is probably some kind of quest to fill a gap of some type. All great stories are constructed of these things and even not-so-great stories have them or they would not work as stories at all.
Imagine that story as a machine, a vacuum-driven artefact. What particles is it most likely to be drawing closer to it?
Particles shaped like the vacuums it contains.
Successful stories tap into particular reader-vacuums and draw particular emotions from readers that exactly match those holes. Hence the whole field of fiction with its genres and sub-genres.
Fictivity is about this whole subject and all its ramifications for fiction writers. And there are many ramifications, as we shall see.