What Does Your Character Want?
Written by
Maria Murnane
January 2020
Written by
Maria Murnane
January 2020

Last year I took a writing workshop on character development, and the instructor returned over and over to this question:

What does your character want?

I found it to be simple, yet at the same time profound. I guess that was the point. 

If we define up front what a character wants, be it something emotional (e.g., to find love) or something physical (e.g., to get a valuable stolen watch back) we can then take that character on a journey by placing a number of obstacles in the way of that “want.” How she responds to each obstacle will show us what she’s made of and create an interesting story for the readers. By repeating this process over and over (obstacle/response), we also develop the character. She should grow as a result of the voyage she has taken along the pages. 

After I wrote the first draft of my first novel years ago, I gave it to a trusted friend to read. Her feedback was along the lines of “I liked it, but the main character didn’t seem to change at all.” I didn’t realize it at the time, and I don’t think my friend realized it either, but what she meant was that my story lacked a character arc, an emotional journey. As a result, my friend felt unfulfilled. I went back into the draft and rewrote it so the main character emerged a better version of herself. Still flawed, but noticeably more mature. As a result, I had a more satisfying story—and a better one.

The next time you sit down to begin a novel, or even if you’re in the middle of writing one, take a step back and ask yourself, What does this character want? Let that answer guide you, and see what happens.

Maria Murnane writes bestselling novels about life, love and friendship. Have questions? You can find her at www.mariamurnane.com.

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