Last month, I attended Amy Hassinger‘s “Revving the Machine of Desire: How to Write a Compelling Novel Opening” at Midwest Writing Center’s annual David R. Collins Writers’ Conference. During the workshop, we talked about using a character’s want or desire to get starting writing our novels. We talked about how it’s important to define the character’s concrete want as well as his or her underlying, fundamental, or more intangible want. 

For example, in my next novel, my main character wants to start a family with her new husband. This is her concrete want. Her underlying want is unconditional love. Some of the students knew their characters’ concrete wants right away but had more trouble defining the underlying wants. 

I was reminded of my website article in December, “Define Your Why to Stay Motivated for Book Marketing,” and thought the method could be used to define a character’s underlying want or desire as well. So, here it is:

To find your character’s underlying want, keep asking why until you can go no further. Start with the concrete want.

In my case, a baby. Why?

Becuase she wants a family different from the one she grew up in. Why?

Because she felt like she needed to be perfect in order to be loved. Why?

She wanted unconditional love. Why?

Well, just because.

When the why seems to be intrinsically motivated or gets down to a basic want for love/affection, control, safety/security, to be right, to figure things out or some other basic, fundamental want, you’ve found it.

If you try this and it works, I’d love to hear about it. Feel free to comment or contact me.

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