Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Sagging Middles & Desire--Day 2

Thanks to all who posted yesterday about their characters’ Desires. Here’s some feedback/prodding for each one who responded. (I’ll take today and tomorrow to get to them all.) These BGs’ books may already be written, so my feedback may not help them much, but the concepts may help others of you who are struggling with some aspect of your story.

My protagonist's desire is to keep and raise her dead best friend's baby as her own, despite the child's having a living grandfather. The actual one liner I have to describe the story's premise is: In 1944 Virginia, a woman assumes her best friend's identity to keep the child she loves.

The one-liner carries more information than we see in the Desire. Perhaps the Desire would be better stated as: to pass herself off as her deceased best friend so that she can raise the friend’s child as her own.

Now you have a two-pronged Desire. Each prong can give rise to possible actions she must take, and conflict to oppose those actions. Even if the character fulfilled the first prong, and no one doubted her assumed identity, something else could happen that might threaten her raising of the child. This could be a crisis point in the book.

My main character is a young TV reporter who has moved to a new city too late to help her great-aunt, the main reason for her move. Her desire is to build her skills quickly so she can move up to a better station while maintaining her independence.

I’m guessing here somewhat, without knowing more about the story. I’m assuming independence means financial. ?? From the above paragraph, I’d say the Desire is: to build her skills and gain employment by a better TV station so she can maintain financial independence. The second prong of the Desire is her ultimate goal. In the first prong, each skill she tries to build can be thwarted by conflict. Then perhaps she gains all the skills, but is looked over for hiring by her targeted station. After she overcomes that and is finally hired by a better station, she could discover that she still lacks the means for financial independence.

My protagonist's desire is to prove himself a worthy warrior of the Empire. To show that his value is not determined by his hatch-status as the last to hatch in his Sire's final clutch. He is also driven to prove valuable enough so that if the truth about the event that gave him the opportunity to break out of societies place for him, that he will be valuable enough that he will not be cast back to his original standing.

The “prove himself a worthy warrior” part is getting somewhere, but it’s too general to stand alone. What does “worthy warrior” mean to this character? This could be the second part of the Desire, with specifics coming first: to do x, y, z in order to prove that he is a worthy warrior.

My protag's conscious desire is to find the way home. His unconscious desire is to discover what "home" actually means.

I haven’t discussed unconscious Desire yet, so I’m going to leave that part alone for now. The conscious part “to find the way home” is too general. (I’m assuming that in this conscious part, “home” literally means where he used to reside.) I’d make it the first of a two-parter: to find his way home so that ____ (fill in the blank). What does he want to see when he gets home? What does he want to accomplish there? If you get that part clear in your mind, you can think of new ideas for conflict to oppose his ultimate Desire even if he does reach home.

Diana's desire is to carry her child to term and find an adoptive family for him, so she can prove to her father that she is old enough to make her own decisions.

Quesion--How would it impact my story if I transposed Diana's desire? Diana's desire is to prove to her father that she is old enough to make her own decisions by carrying her child to term and finding an adoptive family for him. I feel like the story could come out completely different because the foundational desire (the first prong that motivates everything else) would be completely different. Am I correct in thinking that?

Do you identify the desire of other characters as well (such as the antagonist)?

Yes, you need to identify the Desire of all your main characters, certainly the antagonist. This Desire needs to be in opposition to your protagonist’s Desire.

As for the wording of the Desire, I don’t think the second wording says anything different than the first. In both cases, carrying the baby and finding an adoptive home is Diana’s path toward her ultimate goal of proving to her father that she can make decisions. I tend to put the specific actions of the Desire first, with the “so that” following, so I’d say stick with your first wording. Your character’s darkest moment could come when she manages to carry the baby, find an adoptive home, then realizes she still hasn’t proven anything to her father.

Through these suggestions, I want to illustrate how hard it is, and how important it is, to state a very specific, action-oriented Desire. The more specific you get, the more ideas you'll have for actions for your character to take to achieve that Desire, and the conflicts that can occur to oppose each part of the Desire.

I’ll get to the rest of Monday's responders tomorrow.


Stuart said...

Indeed this is tough. Ok dropping down from general and getting to specifics let's see if I can't state what Rathe's Goals are in more specifics.

Rathe desires to impress his new commander with his combat skills and to become a hero of the empire through valor in battle against their enemies. When he learns of the existance of an ancient weapon called the Starfire he becomes determined to claim the device for the emperor and turning it against the invading enemy, thus becoming a hero of the Empire.

His inner tension arises when he begins to wonder if using the Starfire may actually lead to the destruction of the world as he knows it, including the Empire.

Thanks for going through this with us though. Helps force me to think through these things that I normally don't want to deal with on such a concious level. :)

C.J. Darlington said...

It's definitely harder than it sounds, Stuart. I often don't think of what my character desires, and it would help me to know that. In every scene. What does my character want out of this? And of course, how can I keep them from getting it?

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Brandilyn. I'm not sure, though, that the restatement works for my protagonist's desire because the decision to assume her friend's identity is made in a desperate moment when she believes she's out of other options. She doesn't want to do it, and doing it is a source of internal conflict because of her guilt, as well as external conflict posed by the threat of being found out, among other things.

She makes the choice, in a sense, because she wants to have her cake and eat it, too. She wants both to keep the child and, when she runs out of other resources, to get financial assistance from the child's grandfather. So if I were to state a two-pronged desire for her, I think it might be "to get financial help from the child's grandfather while still being able to raise the child as her own." Could that work?