Saturday, September 18, 2010

Writing Class: Do you know what your character really wants?

Fiction is fuelled by conflict, and writers generate conflict by asking themselves two basic questions:
1. What does my character want?
2. What is preventing my character from achieving that goal?
Almost every creative writing class will teach aspiring writers to ask, and answer, these two questions.

But there is a 'surface want', and there is a 'deeper want'. The 'surface want' is usually clear to both writer and reader. The 'deeper want' is another matter. You may not know your character's 'deeper want' when you start your story. You might have to dig deeper to find out.

Stories that don't look beyond the 'surface want' generally won't get published, and if they do, they'll fail to satisfy. It's the 'deeper want' that will give your story substance and meaning.

When the 'deeper want' is understood by the character, and fulfilled, the 'surface want' can then be realized. (This is usually the case, though occasionally the 'surface want' becomes unmportant, and is therefore abandoned.)

Think of one of your favourite novels. What is the main character's 'surface want'? What is the 'deeper want'? Think about the book you're writing. What does your character want? And what does your character really want?

Feel free to share your answers.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Very nicely put, Robyn. I tend to think of it as my character's 'dramatic need' ie that need which will lead them into the most conflict/trouble; that need which is always underpinned by the strongest or most pressing emotions. I think I got the term from James N Frey's book, How to Write Damn Good Fiction... But maybe not! jx

  3. Yes, Lila, you did. :)

    Thanks, Jen. Your terminology works just as well. I like the name of that book - will check it out!