All characters have desires. Desire is the engine that drives your story, it’s what gives the hero a goal—find the killer, fall in love, destroy the death star.
If your characters get what they want on page one, there’s no story left. It’s your job, as an author, to give your characters what they want at exactly the right time. Or not at all.
Until then, you have to play with that desire, use it to develop the drama that will push the story along and pull your readers with it.
There are a few straightforward ways to use your characters’ desires to inject drama into your story, to fuel that engine that will keep your readers engaged.
These techniques are useful for when you’re stuck, when you’re not quite sure what’s going to happen next. They can also help to get back control of your characters when they run off and do their own thing, when they stray away from your carefully plotted plan.
The most obvious way is to keep your character wanting.
As I said, the story (usually) ends when your characters get what they want. Keep that goal just out of reach until you’re ready, until it’s time to give your characters—and the readers—what they want.
Too much, too little, too late
Sometimes you can give your characters what they want and still keep the story going.
If you give them too much of what they want, that will also create conflict. You can even give them too much right at the start and use that as a story premise. Reality shows like The Bachelor use this to drive a full season. He wants a bride and now he has to choose from 25 potential partners.
Giving too much can even be like giving someone dying of thirst a whole bottle of water: if they drink it all in one go, they’ll be sick. Your characters will have to be careful when they get more than they need. Will they have the kind of self control necessary to handle it?
Similarly, if you give your characters just a taste of what they really want, that can lift their desires even higher and increase their motivation to get more.
Money is the obvious example here, but you can use time too. Give them enough to get within reach of their goals, but not quite enough. They will then desperately need that last little bit.
And then there’s when your characters get exactly what they want, but it’s too late. They don’t need it any more.
This works especially well with smaller desires throughout the plot, in scenes or in individual chapters. They find the combination for the bank vault, but they’ve already blown the doors off and now the cops are on their way.
This can be useful to reveal the characters’ frustrations and emphasize how great their desires are, and it can be used to add to humor too, to lighten the mood a little.
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