A powerful novel needs a main character with an important goal he must achieve by the end of the novel. At all costs, the main character must achieve the goal or fail utterly with devastating cost to him and those around him.
A recent novel I tried to read reminded me of when that goal won't work.
Here's the premise. The heroine is the standard urban fantasy woman-- incredible supernatural abilities, snappy leather outfit and dialogue, sharp weapons, and a supernatural boyfriend. So far, so good.
Even better, she is the prophesied warrior who can stop the supernatural baddies before they can start the Apocalypse by opening the gates to Hell.
The Big Bad holds her innocent kid sister hostage, and the ransom is the keys to open all of Hell's gates to Earth.
She must decide whether to save her kid sister by helping the demons of Hell wipe out human life or lose her sister and save everyone else.
A no-brainer, right? She'd choose to save humanity.
Instead, she chooses to help the demons end life on Earth with the very faint possibility she may be able to stop them.
At this point in the novel, I said some rude things about the stupidity and selfishness of the heroine and stopped reading because this wasn't a heroine I could root for.
When you are thinking about your main character's goal for the novel, remember that it must be a goal the reader can root for. Saving a sibling is a good thing but saving a sibling at the cost of everyone else's life is a bad thing.
A hero's goal is selfless, not selfish.