What do your characters want? Can you answer in one sentence?

I was recently reading a blog post by my old DFWWW colleague KRISTEN LAMB, “What Went Wrong with the Star Wars Prequels” and was struck by her central argument:  Bad Guy’s Plan was Too Complicated.  Of course, that was partly caused, she says, by the movie studio’s desire to sell action figures, motivated by which the studio engaged in the creation of way too many characters.  Lamb also asserts that Jar-Jar Binks was totally unnecessary. I can agree with that. I saw the stuffed animals of Jar-Jar and I knew he was unnecessary even without seeing the movie.

Further along down the post, Lamb writes

  • “Characters’ wants and needs need to grow logically and organically out of the conflict and be in line with the character’s personality. “

There it is! I thought.  You need to have a central idea, theme, or desire for a character that they are trying to achieve, so the reader can follow.  And playing in with Lamb’s tenet #1, these motives or feelings should be possible to articulate in a single sentence — perhaps two for a central character.  This gave me the idea of making a MS Excell chart about my novel.  I then marked the characters’ names in red where I thought additional workups/background could be included to make their desires/motives/ideas more clear.

My WIP’s Characters and what they want
Gemela Wants to avoid growing up. But also wants Carl and knows she has to admit she’s grown up to have him.
Carl Wants to be free from guilt, anxiety and loneliness and have peace.
Shilde Wants to have sex with young women … and then kill them.
Jane Wants to control horses and men
Pepe Wants to prove that he is a man in full
Dad Wants his wife back and Gemela a kid again
Mom Wants to get away from Dad and his bitter moroseness and pretend to be 22
Grandma Wants to live forever and barring that, to have the family admit that she really does know it all.
Detective Blackman Wants to do everything “by the book.”



Author: Susan Taylor Brand

Elementary teacher and blogger

5 thoughts on “What do your characters want? Can you answer in one sentence?”

    1. Well … maybe I’ve oversimplified. He’s an alcoholic hounded by fears that he contributed to his girlfriend’s death in a drunk driving accident. He wants to drink, and he wants to stop drinking, but, as they say, one drink is too many and a thousand is not enough.


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