In the last post, I looked at connections between character needs and experience. In this post, I’m taking another look at character need, but from the perspective of how character need can be used in story development. In this post you’ll notice I use ‘could’, ‘can’, and ‘may’ a lot because all of the below are ideas. As mentioned in my introduction, none of these suggestions are hard fast rules for writing, just suggestions that could help along the way depending on your writing style.
For those of us who are planners, it could be useful to look at the character need as soon as your character starts to take shape. For example, if you know you’re writing about a character who is driven by a need for redemption, what is it that formed that desire? What does the character think he needs to do to overcome the ghosts of the past? How would the character pursue this goal? How would he react to obstacles in a way that’s consistent with the pursuit of redemption?
If considering need when forming a character is something that works for you, it could help you flush out backstory, form goals, solidify behaviors and flush out obstacles.
Compass of Authenticity
Aside from being used when forming characters, need can also be used as a compass of authenticity throughout your story.
Consider Oskar Schlinder from Schlinder’s List for example. Let’s say in the middle of the story, he suddenly falls in love with a woman with a hatred for the Jewish community. In order to gain her affections, he closes his factory and has all of his workers sent to a Nazi prison camp.
A twist this devastating wouldn’t make sense for many reasons, but I’ll name two. First, from the onset of the story, the character doesn’t show himself to be driven by a need for love. A whirlwind romance that leads him to do the unthinkable wouldn’t be authentic. Second, the revelation of the Oskar’s need for redemption comes through showing his reaction as he is exposed to atrocities. A sudden desire to submit others to the horrors that previously haunted him would not be realistic.
In the same way, as we craft reversals within our stories, keeping in mind the character need can be helpful in maintaining authenticity.
If you’re like Liane Moriarty, you may not consider the nuts and bolts of the character before you start writing the story. You discover the character along the way. In this case, when it comes time to delve into revision, considering character need can help in recrafting a character. If you have problems with the character arc, for example, it may help to look at how each point on that arc relates to the character need. If you get feedback that the motivation of some characters is unclear, you might want to consider again if the chacter’s actions are in line with their root desire.
Is character need something you consider when writing a story? Why or why not?
Strawser, Jessica; “Liane Moriarty Walking the Line” Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market 2018