Developing Your Characters: Part 1 – The Want

Developing fictional characters can stray into great detail, from what a character likes to eat, to his favorite color, to ‘does he snore’? I’ve filled out pages of questions about various characters, so much so that I forget almost everything I’ve written, then don’t bother to look back, and write the character as he or she first comes to mind. A problem, I know. I’m working on it.

But there are three main questions, powerful, yet short, which an author should answer for each of his or her characters. In fact, character development might not need to go much further for some secondary characters. Meanwhile, with main characters, keeping these questions in mind while writing will be a great help in giving them their own voices. And the first question and answer is…

*rolling drumbeat*

What does your character want?

Not the little things, like food and shelter. There’s always going to be some things a character needs and others he wants. But what does he really, really, really want? What is always in the back of his mind? What would he give almost everything to gain? Honor? Love? Gold? Salvation? He may not realize his desires narrow down to a single phrase but, once we the authors know what this desire is, we can use it to inspire him, torment him (we’re awful, I know) or change him.

As an extra note for major characters, is what the character wants what he needs? What they want may drive the story to the end where they get it. Or what they want may be wrong or not as important as they once thought and, by the end, they will give up what they want more than anything else for something else they’ve realized is more important.

Or what they want might change.

The character’s desires will drive what he says, does, and how he views the circumstances going on around him.

Keep an eye out next month, for the second of the major question which should be answered for every character, large and small.


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  1. Cait @ Paper Fury

    Yes this is such a good question to ask characters and to keep in mind!! I try to always put this in my plotting and outline…and I actually only just figured out today what my main character wants the most so YAY FOR WRITERLY BREAKTHROUGHS. hhaah. Ahem. 😀

    Thanks for stopping by @ Paper Fury!

    • Hurray!!! I love writerly breakthroughs. 😉 This is a question I’ve had to work on with some of my characters. I didn’t realize I didn’t actually know them as well as I thought until I asked it. 😀

  2. Yes. This times ten. I cannot stress enough how important this is.
    Sometimes though it’s not what he wants that’s more important in the end, it’s what he needs. For instance, my current MC WANTS to be left alone. But what he really NEEDS is something he can build his life on and guide his actions by. He denies that he needs that— and often they do deny what they really need. Which is all the more reason to suspect they need something. When they say they don’t need something, you can just about guarantee they need just that.
    Anyway. Lovely article, Hope. I couldn’t agree more.

  3. Pingback: retrospect // june 2016 {also, announcements} | A Gathering of Dreams

  4. Pingback: Developing Your Characters: Part 3 – The Dependence | Writing in the Light

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