What does he want?

The post today is short and sweet and simple; but important.

Many writers say they flounder with the middle sections of novels or they can’t quite pull the threads of their short story together. They know it starts, they might even know how it ends but it’s how to get there.

The single most important thing you must have in mind is what your characters want. The character arc is often a complex one, but starting with a clear idea not of just how it starts but what the character wants is vital. You need to establish this conflict early. The character might be in great danger and what they want is obvious; think of children’s quest novels and the find your way home stories. The start might be building to that threshold when they have no choice but to take action or you might already start in the action and show us later how they got there. But what they want is vital.

Even the more character driven novel (my current work in progress being the case in point) still needs the reader to understand what the three main characters want. And there is a device added to create a sense of something happening they can’t talk of. This is how I have built tension into the story. What they want is an essential part of their journeys even if, in this case, it’s simpler and less defined, but as we see the characters’ problems and start noticing their worries, you see what they need and how their friendship might be what finds it; so it can be subtle but without it there is no story.

The floundering comes from not really quite understanding what the characters want and so how to get from point A to point B but if you focus your ideas on what he (or she of course!) wants and so what might stand in the way of that, then you have the framework of your story. Think of children’s novels again as an example of the conflict and the quest in its simplest form. You might not think your story is anything like that but at its heart all stories have a basic shape and a basic formula (not that I like the idea of formula) but it does apply, albeit sometimes more loosely. Put barriers in the way of dreams, build tension into the story by moving our character further from getting what they want to motivate the action and you create a more powerful drive. Now they have to step it up, fight even harder and the reader needs to be there with them through the highs and the lows; the twists and the turns. The tension is slowly cranked up as we approach the resolution, the will he or she make it or not.

I can promise you that if your story is not quite working and you can’t see why, analysing what your characters want will help all the pieces fall into place and sharpen your focus.


Have a great weekend everyone!



Filed under being a successful writer, Blogging, Learning to be a writer, Living the dream, Mainstream Fiction, Novel writing, Passion for writing, Publishing, Reading, Writing

4 responses to “What does he want?

  1. Great post – Thx! Going to revisit my characters!

  2. Thank you, Debz – this is so useful for me as I am in exactly that middle place. Reminding myself of what they all want, all seven (!) of them, is going to be a brilliant way to start the day’s writing and watch it flow.

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