Writing Tip #2–Tell Me What You Want, What You Really, Really Want

Last week we took a small look of what a character looks like when he has a heart in conflict with itself. Today’s topic still pertains to the character development stages of writing. As you develop as an author, you realize the true power of the character and that the more time that you spend developing them before you start writing, the easier your story will flow. In short, if you want to be a good writer, learn to love the character development process. It’s hard at first, it’s like trying to make a real moving, thinking human being that millions of people can relate to in some way. It’s a challenge, which is why so many aspiring writers fail. It’s not easy and it won’t be handed to you. It comes with hard work just like anything else good in life. If, at this point, you’re scared, think you’re in the wrong place, are experiencing feelings of self-doubt, or feel the beginnings of a massive anxiety attack, please refresh the page and try again. Here we go!

Writing Tip #2: Find out what your character wants.

This seems simple at first: as human beings, we’re always wanting something whether it be love, affirmation, new underwear or ice cream. We fill out lives with the things we want and the people we want (though sometimes some people filter or force their way through).These are all good things to know when you’re developing your characters. It opens up the potential to give small details that make them believable and relatable. Perhaps your character has always wanted a Mustang or lemon yogurt, perhaps he wants new shoes and clean underpants.

While these small things add to your characters, they miss the point of the larger picture. It’s not just “what does my character want?” It’s “What does my character WANT.” What about his/her life is lacking. What is keeping him from fulfillment? Take the example from last week: a soldier who’s overseas, away from his girlfriend/wife/lover. All he wants is for the “damn war to be over so I can get home.” The soldier wants his wife, but he also wants other things. He doesn’t simply just  want his wife, but he wants a family. Kids. A house. Someone to grow old with. Yet he’s stuck on Normandy beach watching his friends’ guts get torn out by machine gun fire. This want can grow and evolve until it becomes his fuel: the nature that drives him, the thing that will make him do whatever it takes to get home. This took me a long time to grasp, so here are three random helpful things to keep in mind.

1) “All he wants to do is save the world.” No! saving the world sucks. It’s hard. It makes you late for dinner. No one wants to save the world for the sake of the world. People do, however, want to save the world for the sake of their family, of a loved one. The same thing applies to illness stories “all he wants to do is cure cancer.” This may be so, but one must ask why. People just don’t wake up one morning and say “you know what, I think I’m going to devote the rest of my life to cancer research.” No. People do selfless things like that because, at some point along the way, they were touched on a profound emotional level by a person or an event. As the author, it’s your job to find that event and discover why the character thinks its significant.

2) Make sure to have your characters’ wants extend beyond the story. Sure, you have to fulfill some of them like saving the world or killing the bad guy, but people always desire more. You can tell an epic love story about how a couple courts each other, dates, fights, loves, loses, forgets, and loves again, repeats about a thousand times, gets engaged and gets married. This is a significant victory for the characters, but that’s not the end-all be-all. Once you get married (so I hear) there is a whole set of other struggles like “How do we pay for our kids college? How do we adjust for living together? How will we have enough money? Should we move? Where? When? Why?

3) Remember, your character should exist as his own independent entity. As the author, you have to make the illusion apparent that your character is unique out of the millions of other possible characters that yours interacts with. The story shouldn’t exist for your character. As a writer, picking a plot line and picking a character and having them interact is probably the worst thing you can do. As a writer, the plot and story should stem from your main character. It should well up inside him and spill out for all to see…but that’s moving in to another topic now. Hope you’ve enjoyed this writing tip! Stay tuned for more!.

Writing Exercise for the day:

Take the picture below and incorporate it into a story of at least 500 words. It can be incorporated in any way possible, as a major plot point or landmark or it can play little to no role at all. It’s your choice! Good luck!

Photo By: Jacob Baugher Nikon D7000

Photo By: Jacob Baugher
Nikon D7000

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