I recently had the privilege of sitting in a writer's class taught by prolific suspense author, Brandilyn Collins. Much of the information contained in this post came, either directly from her class, or from conversations with other writers afterward.
It has often been said that conflict is the catalyst that keeps readers connected to a tale and flipping pages madly. But if there is no underlying foundation of character desire in your story, then there will be no conflict. Desire drives conflict.
You have to know what your character wants in order to create conflict in your plot. If your character has nothing that motivates him, there is nothing to prop up the conflict obstacles that appear along his path.
Let's take a look at an example:
The Pearl by John Steinbeck.
Kino is a poor diver who has a wife and son that he can barely provide for. At the beginning of the book, Kino's son is attacked by a scorpion. They rush the boy to the doctor, but because they are so poor the doctor won't treat him and he almost dies. Kino loves his family very much and this frustrates him most grievously. However, Kino finds a large pearl on one of his dives. The most valuable pearl in the whole world.
Thus arises Kino's driving desire throughout the book.
Kino wants to 1. sell his pearl 2. for its full value so that he can 3. provide for his wife and son.
Can you immediately see how that raises the potential for conflict? There are all kinds of ways we can prevent Kino from achieving what he wants now. We can stop him from selling it altogether. We can tantalize him with a sale and then only offer him part of what it is worth. We can make the wife and son unappreciative of what he's trying to do for them. And so on.
The more detailed your character's desire, the more potential there is for great conflict.
Don't just say, "Tracy wants to make lots of money." Answer the why at the heart of their desire. "Tracy wants to 1. become the best sales associate at her company so that she can 2. improve her lifestyle and 3. hopefully attract the attention of Johnny Begood."
You'll find that as you nail down your character's desire, a lot of other questions about them will get answered, as well. For instance, why isn't Tracy the top associate right now? And why is her self-esteem so low that she feels the need for more money in order to attract Johnny Begood? The closer you get to nailing down their wants, the better you will know your character. Be sure to think things through carefully and make sure you have it totally figured out. A character desire that is a little off of plumb can throw the whole story into the Leaning Tower of Fiction.
So with these thoughts in mind... Anyone care to share the desire that drives your character throughout your story?
On Wednesday we'll talk a little more about character desire and how to create super stories.
Linda Apple is the author of Writing From Your Soul, Writing Life ~ Your Stories Matter, Connect ~ A Simple Guide to Public Speaking for Writers, POW; Promises Kept and Women Of Washington Avenue, her debut novel and the first book in her Moonlight Mississippi series. Her personal experience stories have been published in 16 of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Her devotions have been published in numerous devotion magazines and books. She lives in Fayetteville Arkansas with her husband, Neal, their five children, five children-in-love, and ten grandchildren.
Jody Bailey Day writes inspirational fiction from west Texas. Her debut novel, Washout Express, released June 2013 from Harbourlight Books. Her short stories, poems, devotionals, and articles have appeared in Mature Living, Splickety Magazine, The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, Southern Writers Magazine, and Christiandevotions.us, She is a two time Grand Prize Winner at the East Texas Christian Writers Conference, and a Faithwriters.com Best of the Best award winner. She and her pastor husband have six grown children and nine grandchildren.
Deborah Dee Harper writes from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, by way of Michigan, Kentucky, Alaska, Mississippi, and Alaska (again). Deb is a graduate of the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild classes and writes Christian humorous and inspirational books for both children and adults. Her children’s adventure series, Laramie on the Lam, available in both e-book and print, is being re-published as six individual print books. Her Road’s End series (Misstep, Faux Pas, and Misjudge) for adults is also contracted and should be published soon. She is currently nearing completion on the first book of another series. She is represented by Terry Burns of Hartline Literary Agency.
Lisa Lickel is an award-winning multi-published inspirational novelist, blogger, reviewer, and writing mentor. A freelance editor, Lisa loves all things historical. Her work has appeared in Writer's Digest and Christian Fiction Online.
Liberty Speidel has been a voracious reader since reading her first Nancy Drew book. But she was telling stories long before then with her figurines from Disney's Rescue Rangers. When she's not writing, you may find her gardening, baking, crocheting, or hiking. A lifelong Kansan, she now resides in the Kansas City metro area with her husband, children, and chocolate Labrador, where she could rival Captain Jean Luc Picard in consumption of Earl Grey tea. She is the author of Emergence, Retaliation, and Capitulation, novellas and novels in her series featuring superhuman and police detective Darby Shaw.
Donn Taylor led an Infantry rifle platoon in the Korean War, served with Army aviation in Vietnam, and worked with air reconnaissance in Europe and Asia. Afterwards, he earned a PhD in English literature (Renaissance) and for eighteen years taught literature at two liberal arts colleges. His poetry has appeared in leading journals and is collected in his book Dust and Diamond: Poems of Earth and Beyond.His fiction includes a light-hearted mystery, Rhapsody in Red, and two suspense novels, Deadly Addictive and The Lazarus File, and a historical romance, Lightning on a Quiet Night. He is a frequent speaker at writers’ groups and conferences. He lives near Houston, TX, where he continues to write fiction and poetry, as well as essays on writing, ethical issues, and U.S. foreign policy.
Editor/Author Linda Yezak lives with her husband in a forest in east Texas, where tall tales abound and exaggeration is an art form. She is a speaker/lecturer for various writers' groups and conferences. Her fiction books include Give the Lady a Ride, The Simulacrum, and The Cat Lady's Secret. Her nonfiction books include Writing in Obedience, co-written with Hartline Literary agent Terry Burns.
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