Midweek Technique – what does your character want?

wouldn’t mind this house, too…

Everyone wants something.  I want a new pair of winter boots, a hot tangerine computer bag, a holiday in Hawaii and a summer house in the Gold Coast.  Materialistic, sure.  But hey, they’re my genuine wants!

Your characters, however, are not just average people.  ‘More money’ isn’t a justifiable want for a billionaire unless there’s a reason behind it.  That reason will keep the reader turning the page, wondering if they will actually achieve their goal of getting that want.

So what is a want?  The online dictionary offers up these choices: need, desire, wish, goal, crave, demand.  So, realistically, let’s take a few examples.  In Star Wars, Luke Skywalker wants to get off Tatooine and have an adventure.  Simple.  Princess Leia wants to blow up the Death Star.  Indiana Jones wants to find the Ark of the Covenant.  Ben Gates (National Treasure) wants to find the Templar treasure.  Lightning McQueen (Cars) wants to win the Piston Cup. The Beast (Beauty and the Beast) wants to break the witch’s spell.

Whatever the want, your character must be actively pursuing it.  And the desire for that want will be formed and shaped by their past, what they had and didn’t have growing up.  A want is as individual as your characters and their past.  Did they have a lot of money growing up?  Or none at all?  Do they come from single parent family? Were they adopted? Did one parent leave? Did they have an idyllic childhood or was it abusive?  If, for example, you want to write a hero who is distrustful of people, think about the ways in which a person logically comes to distrust.  Was he betrayed at some stage in his life?  Lied to? What situations was he in to form his distrust?

I had that same issue with the hero in my latest book, A Precious Inheritance (Desire, October 2012).  Chase Harrington has major issues of trust and I had to create a traumatic background to realistically reflect that.  I put that poor guy through hell, actually 😀 But it worked because the more you uncover about him, the more sympathetic you become.

Now, from your character’s want comes your Story Question,  a major question which is posed at the beginning  (in Act 1)  and which carries through to the end, forming the driving force of your story. So if we use the above examples, the story questions will be:

  • Star Wars – will the rebels blow up the Death Star?
  • National Treasure – will Ben Gates find the missing Templar Treasure?
  • Cars – Will Lightning McQueen win the Piston Cup?
  • Beauty and the Beast – will the Beast break the witch’s spell?

yeah, cool skyline but I’d want off this planet too…

Now, at some stage in your story, the answer to this Story Question will look like a big, fat NO.   It will be a black moment (sometimes The Black Moment) were all seems to be lost, where the bad guys look like triumphing, the treasure will stay hidden, the race will not be won or your hero has lost the heroine’s love forever.  For those of you familiar with the Three Act Structure method, this generally comes at the transition between Act 2 and 3.

So here’s some homework.  Have a think about what your character wants, then form your Story Question.  A physical want will often reflect an internal need, for example your heroine may want a promotion (external) because it will gain the love and respect of her father (internal).

Cue the thinking music….. aaaaand….  done?

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7 comments on “Midweek Technique – what does your character want?

  1. My character wants his mother back… Because he doesn’t think, as a child, that life will go on except towards a downhill… 🙂

  2. excellent, ahamin! so his story question would be : will he get his mother back? And of course, your black moment would be ‘no, it doesn’t look like he will.’

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