When I am writing, I always lead with intuition, moving my characters through situations and watching what happens. Basically, I’m making sh*t up for no good reason other than my own entertainment, and it seems to work as a solid first step. The next step is rewriting, which I like to call: the land of analysis. I ask myself all kinds of questions on how to amplify moments in the story and I focus on characters and their relationships as they move through the world.
Questions can vary from:
How do I make this moment more absurd? more intense? more silly?
How do these two feel about each other? (answer and take it to the extreme)
Do I need more description? Less? Different?
No matter how I’m analyzing and reworking; the most important question that needs answering is:
What does my character want and how do they try and get it?
Sometimes (but not often) I begin with this question, but usually, it’s already imbedded in my first draft, I just have to discover the wants and analyze them.
Types of wants:
Concrete / specific wants:
These are tangible things that your character will go after, like a goal or an item. For Olive Hoover in Little Miss Sunshine, it’s getting to the beauty pageant to compete; for Jake Epping in Stephen King’s epic novel 11/22/63 it’s… well I’m not going to give it away.
Abstract / emotional wants:
These are not tangible wants but are usually internal conflict or relationship wants. For example, a character could want to make their sibling feel that they are superior to them or, another character could want to have more self-esteem.
When your characters have a want, they will need to make decisions on how they will go about getting it. This will say a lot about who they are (their ‘character’ in the moral sense, their personality and integrity), without you even trying. Keep in mind, human beings often don’t know their internal wants and take time to analyze and discover what drive them, so, don’t over analyze your characters, just stick to moving them forward in their pursuit of something they want.
If you’re having trouble identifying character-wants or your story is stalling, this is usually because your wants are too abstract and you don’t know how to get your character to do anything about them. Try mixing both the concrete/tangible with the abstract/internal. As in: your character wants to be liked (internal). Most probably, they don’t know this because it’s a want that is deep down; instead, all they know is that they want to be in an elite club at their university. Once you have a concrete goal like the club, your character will have to make decisions to get their entrance card, and the story will roll on.
In writing character, discovering their want (internal and external) is the most important thing to know to bring them to life. Don’t forget, this goes for all your characters, including the antagonist.
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