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What Do Your Characters Want?

Posted by CreateSpaceBlogger on Apr 24, 2013 5:23:55 AM

Have you ever come across a book that was just so full of one-dimensional characters that you realized you cared nothing about them? I'm not just talking about a few characters; I'm talking about every character in the book, protagonists and antagonists included. In some books, there just doesn't seem to be anything of substance about anyone in the book.


So how does this happen? The characters are doing what they've been written to do. They are performing the actions and delivering the dialogue, but still something is missing.


That "something" is a lack of desire. The characters don't want anything that exists outside of the story. They only live on the pages of the book. You don't get the sense that once you've stopped reading for the night, they're off living their fictional lives without you.


In order to really give your characters depth, you have to know what they want. Not just what they want to fulfill their part of the story, but what they want for themselves, for their lives. Just because they're fictional doesn't mean you can't give them hopes and dreams. You may never explore these hopes and dreams in your books, but you'll know them as you write. You'll know why they make the decisions they do, or carry themselves the way they do, or talk the way they do. We all spend our lives in training for our deepest desires. Your characters should, as well.


So, as you sit down to work on your current or next novel, as yourself: Do you know what your characters want?


-Richard Contributors/RidleyHeadshot_blog.jpg

Richard Ridley is an award-winning author and paid CreateSpace contributor.


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Apr 24, 2013 9:01 AM walton    says:

Good essay.


Along these lines, I would add that there are three types of characters in books: the flat, two-dimensional character, the real-life character, and the live character.


Flat, as you described, serve a good purpose when used correctly (which means never as the protagonist or antagonist).


The real-life character, as in biographies, is hard.  The rare writer brings his subjects to life, but he cannot let them go hither and yon.


And there is the live character ("know what your characters want" and if we see them enough to know what they want, they are live) . . . they move in with us (writers), push us around, make a mess and never clean up . . . and usually they go where they want, as we, hungry Boswells, follow, quickly putting to paper what they say and do.  The downside with them is that sometimes they do not go where we expect or want them too.  Now, ain't that fun!



Apr 11, 2017 5:43 AM Norman_Fledglings    says:

My characters want two things:


  1. They want their creator to      make a full time living out of writing.
  2. They want their creator to      stop taking out his issues upon them by snuffing out the lives of their      friends!


Seriously though, there is nothing worse than wooden characters that are all clones of one another (is that even physically possible?). I’m having an interesting time with this in my current novel. The plot requires a minimum number of characters but not too many, though the structure of my book means that a few of the secondaries are getting in the way of the main players and everything is getting too crowded for my liking. Some of the extras have unique qualities, but most of them need a lot more development in order to justify having individual identities and if that doesn’t happen then the axe must fall upon their scrawny necks. It’s only early days at this point and I’m not too annoyed with the state of things – what I am stuck on right now is finding the entry point into my book as a writer. In my younger days I worked on an orchard, and if you’ve never pruned a vigorously growing tree then let me tell you that the toughest part is in finding the part of the tree that you can begin working on. On a really bushy tree the branches stick into your face from whichever point you try to gain access (with citrus trees being the worst offenders because of their spines) and that’s how I feel with my book right now. I’ve got a hundred pages of notes and paragraphs strewn all over the place and a few partially assembled chapters but no momentum. If my characters were compassionate beings then they would want:


  1. A less tangled process for      their creator so that he didn’t hate the computer that they reside in      while he lives the dream.