Monday, November 19, 2012

Second: Using The Internal Compass

Here's the second reason you need to know what a character wants more than anything:
2. What a character needs is what drives his actions in the story... all his actions, not just the external conflicts in the story.
As the story goes on and the character’s path gets tougher, the character moves from:
  • interested in getting his desire to
  • must get his desire to
  • obsessed with getting his desire.
The character takes bigger and bigger risks as he goes, simply because he used the easiest routes to goal attainment first and they failed. (Don’t you do the same thing?) This results in that miraculous aspect of fiction writing sometimes referred to as rising action.

A character’s pursuit of his heart’s desire will automatically cause the stakes to rise as the story goes along. This is both important and useful to know if you struggle with ratcheting up the tension as the plot progresses.

But it doesn’t stop there.

Everything that the character does, and all of his thoughts and choices, are shaped in some degree by that one desire. It acts as a compass, directing him on a daily, almost minute-by-minute basis. And because of that, it also acts as your compass, helping you decide what to include and what to leave out of the story. Your story is, after all, about your character’s pursuit of his heart’s desire... and it makes no sense to include things that don’t further his attainment of that goal. That's especially true in an easy reader, where the number of words you use are at a premium.

I know you probably think I’m beating this “compass” idea to death, but it’s so vital to staying on track in your writing that I have to. Most people, once they set their mind on something, filter out all distractions and set a laserlike course toward their goal. Some of those “distractions” are things that shouldn’t be ignored, but everything is sacrificed in the pursuit of the goal. (These ignored “distractions” often provide some of the more interesting complications in your story.)

So remember this “law of increasing obsession” when working with your characters. Your writing will be much stronger for it.

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