This post covers the third in my series on character.


That kinda grabs your attention, doesn’t it?

Back when I was an MFA student at Vermont College, faculty member and writer Louise Hawes gave a lecture with that title, and her evocative enunciation of the word desire sticks with me today. As does her point.

Which is: your main character must have an internal desire that drives her from the beginning to the end of her story arc. (Note that your character will also have an external goal, particular to your story, which I’ll discuss in the next blog post. This post speaks to that internal driving desire or yearning that your main character has held long before your story even begins.)

Your job as writer is to know and be able to articulate that desire and understand how it will drive every action your character takes as well as how it is realized by the end of your book.

Some Examples of Internal Desires

Let’s see what some novels contain for internal character desire, as a way to understanding what it means.

Harry Potter’s main desire is to “find” his “lost” parents. To have a family. It’s the only way he believes he’ll ever understand himself. He has many substitute parents throughout the stories (Dumbledore, Sirius, Hagrid to name a few) but in the end he finds solace with the large family of wizards and witches, and finds his community – which is what we all do when we become adults.

Katniss Everdeen’s main desire is to protect her sister Prim. It’s been her desire ever since their father died. That desire drives everything – her volunteering as tribute, her determination to live. She protects others (Peeta) when she can. And though Katniss’s desire is thwarted, it is reshaped into her desire for love.

Frodo Baggins’s main desire is to be something of a wanderer. He wants to explore, to be an adventurer. “He’s more of a Brandybuck,” some say disparagingly. He jumps at the chance to leave home (which makes a perfect contrast with his companion Sam, who’d rather stay home), and in the end Frodo gets what he desires, as he really never returns to Hobbiton.

What Connects All These Internal Desires?

You probably guessed the answer to that question already from what I’ve been saying in earlier posts. These characters’ internal desires are driven by their deep, sometimes not articulated or even recognized, emotions. Yearning is another word for this.

Harry yearns to belong. Katniss yearns to protect. Frodo yearns to adventure. Every emotion that surrounds these internal desires is fully expressed through the characters’ actions and reactions – in other words, through what they do, i.e., the plot.

This is how you tie together your character and your plot. Your main character’s internal desire is expressed through her emotional responses to what happens in your story. The craft book I recommend for understanding this aspect of character is Lisa Cron’s Wired For Story.

Understanding your main character’s internal desire is step one to a fully rounded story and a strong story arc. Step two is understanding your main character’s external goal, which I’ll cover in my next post.