Thursday, March 17, 2011

What Does the Character Want?

The phrase follows me like a curious dog: what does the character want? One professor asked these questions, "What are the best things that can happen to the character? What are the worst?" One would hope that the character would want one of the better things.

Another said, "and does the character get what he wants, or not?" What happens when the character does get it? What can change if s/he doesn't? He stressed putting "pressure on the character." This is a concept similar to challenging the character, but for some reason I have an easier time visualizing something heavy sitting on the character.

In earlier posts, "Stakes of the Story," and "Challenge the Character," I began looking at ideas on how to create and push a plot forward, and I think they are linked to this idea of pressure.  Challenging questions are: why does the character want this so badly and why now?

I started brainstorming about ways to put pressure on the character:

  • S/he has a deadline in which something must be done or decided by a certain time.
  • S/he must get to a place or face the consequences.
  • S/he needs to get out of a difficulty.
  • S/he reacts to a new piece of information, which may leading to a change of heart or mind. 
  • S/he character reacts to another character, who wants something from him/her.
As mentioned in another previous post, the book Fortunately by Remy Charlip is a simple and clear example of putting pressure on a character. The need for change is what propels the story, what gives it movement. By exploring this further in your own storytelling,  you can discover how a character can come up with a solution (or wrestle with it and come up with no solution) and reach a new point of view by the end.


Lauren said...

This makes me think of the "aimless plot vs. aimless character" conversation we had a few weeks ago. What do you do if your character wants something s/he hasn't even articulated to her/himself yet (much less the reader)? How to capture the undefined search without making it seem like the narrative isn't moving purposefully?

Alisa said...

It sounds like a piece where we could watch the character think. The character wants something unknown and goes through some possibilities trying to figure out what it is. Or, the character might wish to have energy enough to even want something.

An interior monologue works well for this, I think. Whether he or she solves the problem, I think the character still finds out something about himself or herself in the end.

Brian suggests looking at the "point of entry" --the first line of the piece--and the "exit point," or what I like to call the "emotional landing point." There's bound to be a change if you've already written the piece. If not, you could figure out how you want the character to feel at the beginning and by the end.