Character Development: What Do They Want?

Photo credit: sahlgoode on Flickr
One of the most important questions you can ask yourself while plotting out your novel comes down to the title of this post—what do your characters want?

In novels, your character’s desire will drive the rest of the story. There’s a reason you don’t see genuinely apathetic characters as protagonists for many novels—they’re boring to read about and difficult (if not impossible) to plot an interesting story around. When it comes to writing a novel, your characters must want something in order to keep your readers interested and keep the plot moving forward.

Depending on your novel, your characters wants may evolve throughout the course of the story, or remain static (until they get what they want). Let’s take a look at an example of each:

  • The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien—After the initial catalyzing incident, Frodo wants as little to do with the ring as possible. He agrees to bring the ring to a place of safety out of necessity, but when they arrive in Rivendell and Frodo gets the opportunity to return home, he admits he’s ready to return to the Shire. It isn’t until the secret council meeting that Frodo sees just how dire the situation is and develops a new want that carries the rest of the trilogy: to see the ring destroyed. 

  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins—Right from the beginning we learn that Katniss’ top priority is to take care of her family. She breaks the law and hunts because it’s the main source of income and food that her family has, and without it they would starve. Her desire to take care of her family doesn’t change after the Reaping, either—she volunteers to protect her baby sister and her main motivation to survive the games is so that she can keep her promise to Prim. 

Determining what your characters want isn’t just a matter of importance to the plot—it is, in fact, a huge part of character development, as your character’s wants will largely determine their actions throughout the course of the novel. Furthermore, it’s important to know more than just your protagonist’s desires—what your antagonist and side characters want is just as important and potentially just as significant to the plot as your protagonist’s desires.

Taking a look at The Lord of the Rings again, Samwise Gamgee doesn’t join the Fellowship of the Ring for the adventure—far from it, as he has a strong desire to return home to the Shire as soon as possible. More important to him, however, is to protect Frodo like he swore to Gandalf that he would, and so he goes to great plot-altering lengths to make sure that he fulfills that promise.

Taking a moment to identify what your characters want can really help you to identify how they will act throughout the course of your novel—and it may even inspire some new plot ideas that you wouldn’t have otherwise considered. If you haven’t already, I definitely recommend it.

When do you take your characters’ desires into account? Has brainstorming their wants ever inspired new plot ideas? Share your experiences in the comments below!


Andi-Roo said...

I had only the most vague of notions as to my characters' desires... until I began writing! If I had thought this out better prior to diving in, perhaps I would not have deviated so far from my outline. My characters' WANTS became more clear by the second chapter, but of course by then I had gone so far off track that I had no idea where to go. Now I've had to re-plot their course, this time taking into account what each of them truly hopes to gain. It's been a great learning experience --- next time I will know ahead of time to get this straight BEFORE starting the writing process. Your post here confirms that lesson for me & drives home what an important step I overlooked! :(

Ava Jae said...

We all have to learn these lessons one way or another. I think just the fact that you're now able to look back and say that you know how to take into account your characters wants before writing is a pretty good indication that you learned something very valuable from your experience, which I'd say is a pretty great thing. :)

Best of luck with the rest of your writing!

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...