We’ve heard this like a thousand times in writing, specially when receiving feedback from others, even more so when those others are Pro type people maybe even inclined to be a bit on the “dick” side of things, right? Okay, maybe they only want to help us, no need to be so defensive.
What does your character want?
Have you ever wondered why is this question so repetitive and so important? I mean, why do we even need to know what a character wants, maybe they don’t want anything, you know… like depressive people and stuff… We’d be wrong btw…
As it turns out, people and characters always want something, whether it’s some basic need like food or shelter and up to the craziest of human endeavors, like saving the universe! So, first I want to share with you a list of possible answers to this very question, kinda like to flip it over from What does your character want? to What can your character want?
From the individual (only for itself) to the community (for everyone), it would be like this:
- To survive.
- To take revenge.
- To win the battle.
- To achieve something.
- To explore a world.
- To catch a criminal.
- To find the truth.
- To gain love.
- To bring justice and/or freedom.
- To save the republic.
- To save the world.
Many things a character may want as it seems, can you think of any other?
Thing is, to understand the want of a character is to understand their motivation. What is the driving force making them move?
But, if we have stablished that what a character wants drives his motivation, what is the purpose of thinking in a desire line? Aren’t them the same? Well, why are you asking such complicated questions? Are you a detective or something? Let’s say you’re one, just for the sake of understanding, okay?
So, maybe you want to catch the criminal, right? That’s your want, your motivation for moving your fat ass (filled with donuts and cheap coffee) into action. But maybe, as you go deep into the investigation, you come to realize that the killer is your little baby, turns out it’s a devil’s acolyte, a demon, for the non-initiated.
Okay, so what do we have here?
The motivation line is to catch the criminal. But the desire line is to protect your family.
Isn’t that wonderful? Now you have a compelling story about a self-righteous detective who wants to uphold the law, yet can’t go against their baby, finding that their true desire is to protect family. What will they do?
I guess it would also depend on another aspect of the character development, their NEED. So, what is this need thing? Well, in simple lame terms it is overcoming a flaw inherent in their personality.
To think about it in a clear way, let’s assume that the detective was self-righteous because of a family environment where no one respected each other. To cope with this, they decide to go the other way, to prove a difference, to separate from the pain that such environment causes.
So, our protagonist follows the law by the book, straying even a bit from it causes immense anguish and anxiety, preventing them to dive into the reality of the world inhabited, cause we all know that the criminal world goes way beyond what the law says, right? Okay, so the idea in here is for us to choose a powerful inciting incident that forces the character out of the law and into the other side, expressed as the fears coming from that past not resolved, the no respect environment, where not only do the character gets no respect (maybe by losing the protection of the batch) but also where they have to be disrespectful themselves to pull through and survive.
Now, why would they NEED to go through such an ordeal? Because it seems that this is the only way to resolve their flaw, by addressing it in an external situation which is comprised by the world of the story and the antagonism.
SO, to end the idea, the character needs to overcome (or succumb if you’re a dick writer) their flaws… and you know what’s the funniest thing? Is the desire to pursuit a goal which prompts the character into a story where they face those flaws in order to complete a quest, and so a story is unfolded.
Isn’t that crazy?