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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11 comments:

  1. I'm in the process of developing a charcter a the moment and she only came alive for me when I gave her a clear goal/motivation :)

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  2. Sounds familiar! Even interesting characters just lie on the page until they decide they want something.

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  3. Oh, goody. Now I have another book to add to my BOOKS TO READ list!

    HER FEARFUL SYMMETRY sounds intriguing to say the least.

    Thank you, Outlaw Lady!

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  4. It was highly interesting! I haven't turned pages so fast in long time, but I have to admit I was disappointed in the ending (and be warned: there are some content issues).

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  5. I'm going to be talking more about this on Monday. :) You hit the nail right on the head!

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  6. Can't wait! This is one of my favorite character angles.

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  7. Love, love, love this post! And I can't wait to read the book. Thanks for sharing!

    Chris B.

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  8. My pleasure. Hope it's something you can put to use in your own writing.

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  9. My novels have at least 3 plots in them, often more, to keep them interesting. Keeping them straight is also a challenge, and sometimes they even overlap. However, there's always one main plot, and it takes center stage most of the time.

    ~ VT

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  10. Subplots and mini-goals are what add substance and depth to a story. In order to achieve his major goal, the character has to achieve many smaller ones along the way.

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  11. I've been hearing this everywhere lately, so I think it must be something I need to hear! I'm rereading Bird by Bird and just today she was talking about asking your character...what do you want most?

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