Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Do You Know What Your Characters Want?


Without question, the driving force of fiction is conflict, and the only way to create conflict is to create a character who wants something he can’t immediately have. This takes many different forms, everything from a bereaved father who wants vengeance, an orphan who wants a family, or a crook who wants to rob a bank. But the key factor in all good stories is giving characters a strong goal.

In Her Fearful Symmetry, Audrey Niffenegger’s highly anticipated second novel, she masterfully keeps readers glued to her large cast of characters and their rather leisurely existence in a London block of flats by giving each character a strong goal. For the most part, her characters’ goals are simple and pedestrian, but the fact that they are clearly driven toward a desire and are taking steps to reach that goal, keeps readers flipping the pages to find out if they’ll achieve their objective and what they’re willing to do along the way to get there.

Goals are best when they’re something concrete. The character needs to physically do something to achieve this goal. Sitting around daydreaming about the goal doesn’t cut it. As in Niffenegger’s book, goals are strongest when they’re motivated by a deep and corresponding inner need, such as the grief that drives the vengeful father or the loneliness that fuels the orphan in search of a family. The effect will vary depending on your story’s needs, but just remember that strong characters always have strong goals.
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