Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Ask O: What Does She Want? And More Deep Questions to Navigate Your Character’s Emotions Part 2

Welcome to Ask O Wednesday! I hope you’re writing week has been productive, inspired, and fun (can’t forget the fun!).

Last week we talked about knowing our characters’ basic desire. Start by asking, “What does she want?” and then give the most obvious answer. For an example, I used my work-in-progress about Misty, a mom of preschoolers. Misty’s basic desire is a simple one. To eat her cereal before it gets soggy. But her real desires require more than what floats on the surface …

A Little Bit Deeper Now
I know what Misty wants on a superficial level, and that’s good. I used to stop here and just write the scene, but then I discovered an even more enlightening question.

What does she really want?

Sometimes, I want to skip this. It seems instinctual, obvious. But oh the mysteries I’ve discovered by asking this question of my characters! Thrills of new plot twists have tickled my senses. Gut-thrashing tension sprang to light. Tears flowed from my eyes.

So, Misty, what do you really want? It’s not easy for Misty to answer. It takes a good measure of self-awareness on her part. (Don’t most great heroes possess that skill?) Finally, after scraping a Rice Crispy from her fingernail, Misty answers …

She yearns for the hours of time she spends training, praying for, and disciplining her kids to be evidenced by five minutes of uninterrupted peace. Can they live up to such a small expectation? Will they respect her—love her—enough to impart the gift of crisp crispies?
Do you see how this simple question opens a window into her heart as well as granting clues to her reactions, actions, goals, and decisions? Pretty cool, huh?

Asking, “What does she really want?” is my next step for every scene.
So far we have the questions: What does she want? And What does she really want? There’s one more even more mind-blowing question…but you’ll have to wait till next week to find out.

Don’t forget to leave your Ask O question in the comments or on my website:

Happy writing! (Have fun.)



  1. Good question, O... it occurred to me while reading this, that much suspense could be added (yes, even to soggy cereal!) by a writer keeping this secret as long as possible, but using it as a guide for choosing which scenes would best show (and not tell) the "real thing this character wants."

    Seems to me it would not only add more depth to the character, but also be a wonderful tool for enriching plot structure, as well. Because while she might say one thing, she will do another... which could lead to all sorts of complications. Especially if the character -- like so many of us -- isn't really aware of it, herself (at first), except on the deeper levels. Which is why questions like, "What's wrong with you?" or "What do you want?" from husbands or concerned family members can sometimes only be answered with an "I don't know!"

    But actions speak louder than words, eh? Even to ourselves.

    Thank you for this thought-provoking post, today!

  2. You're welcome.

    You make some good points, Lilly. I think strong protagonists are usually self aware in many areas, but are "missing the point" in certain ways. Some call it believing the lie story. I tend to think of it as being stuck in a certain wrong way of thinking.

    So, I agree, knowing this as the author and only revealing it in little bits is the way to go until she finally acknowledges the way she's been feeling then having the "epiphany" and changing.

    Wow. Sounds like a plot developing.


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