Friday, January 20, 2012

An Eye on the Prize: About Desire

When creating a complete character, one of the first things that any writer needs to consider is the desire that drives the character. What does your character need or want? How will your character's pursuit of this desire contribute to the story? It isn't enough to simply flesh out your character's appearance and basic personality, you must also glean from your character what it is that he or she wants, and wants badly. Without a desire, your character is not only flat, your story is flat. You can create grand vistas in words so powerful that the readers feel that they are there, but without that carrot-on-a-stick known as desire, your mule simply won't go.

You might be saying, "Well, duh. Of course my character needs a desire. That's why I decided that my character's desire is to not feel like such a slouching, ambling, insecure dope." Well, that's a fine start, but it's not enough. A better way to think about your character and desire is in the terms of general and specific. Perhaps your character's general desire is to be more suave than the aforementioned dope, but that is not enough for a complete story. In order to truly bring your character to life, you need to couple that general desire with a specific desire. A specific desire for the same character could be that he wants to step outside of his comfort zone (by joining the military, or taking public speaking classes, or throwing a ring into a molten mountain) in order to achieve his general desire of being awesome.

Depending on the length of your story, your character could have many desires that help propel the story forward, but in all cases, these desires need to reflect specific wants or needs that will help the character achieve general wants or needs. In fact, your character doesn't even really need to know his own desires - learning about what he wants could be a part of his growth in the story - but you need to know. You are your character's creator, his mother or father, his god. You have to know your character better than you know yourself.

Now some writers might prefer to learn about their characters as they write them, and that's fine, but if you come to the end of your story and have never laid out your character's general and specific desire(s), then you are missing a vital piece that will make your story complete.

Exercise: Study the following picture and create a list of three possible general desires and three possible specific desires that this person has. Feel free to share in the comments!

Steampunk player. Burning Man 2011. Photo by Trey Ratcliff


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