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Writing: Goals vs. Objectives

By Michael Schilf · January 10, 2011

You’re stuck. You know your ultimate goal: do a rewrite of your sci-fi spec script, but you’ve gotten sidetracked, run out of steam, or completely lost your way. Now the goal itself seems too daunting to tackle and you have no idea how to begin. The best way to move forward is by establishing some very attainable objectives.

Identifying goals and objectives AND knowing the difference between the two is valuable when you set out to accomplish something. The two concepts are separate but related: goals without objectives can never be accomplished, while objectives without goals will never get you to your final destination.


Goals are macro: long-term aims of a desired result. So when writing a screenplay, the goal might be to complete the first draft.

Objectives are micro: concrete attainments that can be achieved by following a number of steps. So a screenplay objective is something very specific: developing a character flaw, identifying the first act lock in, incorporating a third act twist, etc.


The main difference between goals and objectives is their level of concreteness. Objectives are very specific and tangible whereas goals are broader and less structured.

The root word of goals is “go”. So your goals are all about going forward to reach the final outcome. And therefore, the ultimate goal is a bit amorphous, incorporating everything you must accomplish on your journey to achieve the end result: your screenplay.

On the other hand, the root word of objectives is “object”. And objects are concrete, and therefore, they can be clearly outlined and be given a pragmatic and effective timeline, which creates enhanced control and focus.


Because a goal is long term, hard to quantify, and the process to accomplish it can be obscure, applying objectives is a great tool for executing that goal because objectives are shorter, concrete, and much easier to complete. 

So the next time you get slammed to a halt with a structure hole, character problem, or story situation that immobilizes you from achieving your goal, take a minute to step back and write down the very next action required to move forward to fix that problem. This step-by-step approach allows you to create realistic objectives, while helping you to relax and regain control.