When my daughters were little I used to read all kinds of books and magazines filled with parenting advice, looking for the nugget of wisdom that would help me be the best possible parent. One day, I found it: “Don’t forget to smile at your kids.”
Well, that’s obvious, you think. But it isn’t. In those days I was working full time, raising two toddlers, and helping support my husband through a PhD. I played stuffed animal games while plotting grocery lists in my head, and bustled them into clothes and socks and shoes and coats with determined concentration every morning. But once I took that mandate to heart and began smiling at them more readily, the dynamic in our house shifted. Their faces would light up in response to my smiles, and their happiness made me happy, and it became a virtuous cycle. It remains the single best bit of parenting advice I ever got.
Can writing advice be distilled down to one game-changing essential nugget? I’d say yes: What does this character want? Well, that’s obvious, you think, as obvious as smiling at your kids. But just like that nugget of parenting wisdom, there’s more to it than that. Because what your character wants may conflict with the wants of a host of other characters, for starters. What your character wants may put them at odds with themselves. What your character wants may be not one thing but two things, and those two things may be at odds. And if you can stay focused on all those wants, you will end up with one hell of a story.
So what’s the best way to do that? Here are a few tricks: [Read more…]