Better Storytelling: Conflicting Desires
Your characters superficial, immediate, and long-term wants and goals are just like anyone else’s desires. Love, happiness, riches, fame, all the other cliches.
Are you suggesting humans are superficial and flat like characters?
Suggesting? No, I’ll tell you straight out: humans are superficial and flat like characters. But, that’s a different kind of discussion. Just like that feels like a problem for humans, it is for your characters because they are reflections of us.
In Of Mice & Men, Lenny and George live by the ever-possible dream that if they work hard and save, they can have their little property with rabbits, where they can “live off the fat of the land”.
Why should I care?
Understanding the character’s wants and goals can really put into perspective why (s)he does what she does. We do things to get what we want in life, let alone what we need. In a story, the character isn’t given what (s)he wants right off the bat. (S)he has to work for it, and that’s what keeps the story going.
If George never had this desire, he would be a wasted wreck like the rest of the hired hands with which he worked. The only thing that kept him on the straight and narrow was the prospect that he could be independent one day and own something like so few others. That goal is also what helped to discipline and entice Lenny, as well. In the same way, the idea of living with George and petting rabbits for the rest of his life is what kept Lenny on his best. Without it, he’s big enough to do what he wants. Who is George or anyone else to tell him no?
How can I make this happen?
Well, there’s the straightforward way, and the interesting way.
- You can have the character outright say it.
- Demonstrate how much your character wants something with his/her actions.
- Threaten your character with the loss of something and make him/her work to get it back.
It’s as simple as that. No need to make it more complicated than it needs to be!
What are some common character desires you find in good stories?
Let us know in the comments below, and on social media, of course. Not to mention, more about similar writing techniques can come straight to you if you sign up for my newsletter to the right!