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Fiction: Character and Desire

What we desire is what drives us. Our goals create the path that we follow in our lives, and thus determine much of what happens to us. For example, if you want to be a master of the violin, violin lessons and music will make up a large part of your life. Or if you have a sweet tooth and always desire candy, that will have an effect on what happens to you as well. Thus when you are writing, you want to know what your character desires. It makes up the heart of your story and your plot.

What is plot? You may have studied this term in school. Plot is the pattern of events or main story in a narrative or drama. Plot is what happens. At the center of plot is conflict. It can be useful to think of plot as a mountain: at first the story is climbing uphill starting from the ground. Tension slowly accumulates as the conflict grows deeper and deeper. Then, you reach the peak of the mountain, the climax. At this point, the story reaches a turning point from which it cannot return, and the plot coasts downhill, unable to be stopped, towards the conclusion.

So the desire for whatever your character has to have is what drives the story forward, just like desire drives real people in your lives. Desire is what makes your character get off the couch and care about something, and is a large part of what makes the reader read the story. Conflict plays against your character's desire and gives the story a more interesting direction than simply a straight line. You can think about the importance of conflict using the following metaphor. Imagine a bowling ball rolling down a hill. Now imagine that same bowling ball hitting all kinds of rocks and branches, bumping and leaping its way down the hill. Which scene would be more interesting to watch?

This lesson's assignment is to invent a character and ask: what does my character want? For the sake of this exercise, make that desire very very simple, very specific, and concrete. Instead of making your character desire love, money, or fame, make him or her desire to have a crush smile back, to find enough change on the sidewalk to be able to buy a soda from the vending machine, or to make it to the next level of auditions for the school play. Keep that desire finite and to one specific time and place. Then throw a bunch of obstacles in the character's way that prevent him or her from satisfying that desire. Keep writing to see if your character wins or not. Write at least a page.

Once you complete this exercise, you can get a critique from a writing teacher.

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