Without desire, there is no character; without character there is no story.
Desire creates good character because it creates conflict –> if we want nothing, nothing will happen. Put your character at odds with someone or something. Life and the real world throws us curveballs, do the same in your story’s world. The best way to reveal your character’s inner-longings is through interaction with other characters.
Your characters may just want to escape the normalcy of their lives, like Thelma and Louise. (If you are following this Cultivating Character Series, I recommend watching the movie as I will refer to it several times.)
Sometimes, we cannot pinpoint what it is our characters want, they just know it’s “something else”. Be specific with your character’s goals, or it confuses the reader. Thelma and Louise wanted to escape the boredom of their existence, so they went on a road trip. I have referenced this movie before as a great example of how characters’ goals can change and to point out their spectacular character arcs. The characters’ goals in the movie change several times and their exterior goals intertwine with their interior goals. Their emotional make-up changes, evolves, because of external events. This is clearly shown through action and dialogue.
Remember, goals are surface and personal, as explained in Part 1.
What Sylvia Plath means by this is your character’s desires must create risks for him and challenges he must overcome. Their desire should create an insatiable longing that forces him to do things out of character. In pursuit of his want, he is forced to change, to dig deeper for the strength to continue on his quest.
Desire motivates your character and moves the story forward. The richness arises from the conflict they encounter in their obsessive need to get their desire. Every scene must drive your character towards that identifiable goal or you risk corrupting the pace of your story and it will fail. Every action your character takes must bring him closer to achieving his goal, or thwart his efforts.
Don’t allow your character to simply lament his fate – your character must act, not just react.
Sometimes, your character wants two irreconcilable desires and gets stuck. He faces a moral dilemma and must compromise. This is usually a dire situation/decision that likely involves life and death or an equally serious outcome. This creates drama.
Your character must fail. He must overcome paralysis and attempt to achieve his goal. At first, at least, he must fail. This creates conflict. There are two layers of conflict: your character is pushed forward as he pursues the goal he believes he wants, but lying beneath is the thing he truly desires. Remember your character’s ghost, the lie and the wound, as explained in Part 2. Showing the reader your character’s failures, in turn, will show his strength as he battles to overcome these obstacles.
A typical storyline pits your protagonist against his own personal goals. In the television series Breaking Bad, the MC is Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher who is dying of cancer. He wants his family taken care of upon his death. In pursuit of this, he resorts to cooking Meth (Methamphetamine) and must make difficult choices: murder, revenge, the question of loyalty. Walter builds a Meth empire and becomes rich beyond his wildest dreams, yet he doesn’t stop cooking the Meth. His wish now is to maintain his status. All his inner-self wants is recognition and appreciation for the things he has achieved in life – his job is stable, and he’s a good father and family man. He was, before teaching high school, his cancer and Meth cooking, a co-founder of a corporation that grew into a multi-million dollar business. Unfortunately, he left the company before its growth happened and resents not being part of it. All this pushes Walter forward and forces him to do things he would never normally do.
Use self-reflection to help find your character’s desire. What is it you want? How have you obtained past desires? What stood in your way and how did you overcome those obstacles? Use your experience to translate your character’s desires to the page.
Napoleon Hill (the American self-help author) said, “Desire is the starting point of all achievement, not a hope, not a wish, but a keen pulsating desire that transcends everything.”
Your character must live and breathe their desire.
How do your pinpoint your character’s desires? Do you have a difficult time meshing the surface goal with the personal? How does your character’s goal create conflict and move the story forward? Please, leave your comments at the bottom of this page.