Wednesday, October 19, 2011

What Does She Want? And More Deep Questions to Navigate Your Character’s Emotions Part 3

Welcome to Ask O Wednesday! Have you had fun writing this week? I sure did. Lots of great character-building fun. It’s so exciting to see characters transform into “real” people.

Speaking of characters, back to our series on Character Emotions. Last week we talked about not just asking, “What does she want?” but going deeper and asking, “What does she really want?” I used my character, Misty, a harried mother of preschoolers, for an example. We decided she really wants her kids to love and respect her enough to let her eat a bowl of Rice Crispies before it sogs up.

Longing for love and respect--sounds pretty deep. As a mom, those desires resonate with me, and I’m sure your characters touch you as well. But, friends, an even deeper question exists. One Misty is quite familiar with (if her kids are anything like mine). And that question is,


Why does Misty hunger to know that her long hours have born fruit in her kids? Why does she need them to respect her? Why does a quiet five minutes symbolize success to her? Why, why, why?

Not until this step do I really delve into my character’s emotions. Before this, I’m still grazing over the surface—perhaps afraid to probe the depths. But the “why” is like a deep sea probe, shedding light into areas I could never see from the surface. Deep, deep into her soul.

And what do I uncover? In the midst of all the chaos, Misty feels alone. Fruitless. Like a failure. Eating an uninterrupted bowl of cereal would affirm that perhaps she hasn’t failed—and she needs that affirmation as water to her soul. She needs hope.

After the first why, I continue asking why until I’m either satisfied that I’ve grasped her depths, or my own emotions can’t take anymore.

The “why” is the next step I take for every scene.


Finally, I ask one more question. What does Misty really need? Her soul requires more than to eat a bowl of cereal, doesn’t it? She must find her hope in Christ. Accept her failures and her successes as a child of the King, knowing that He’s with her as she raises her children.

Do I wrestle with her real need in every scene? Of course.

Not All Notes at Once

In a symphony, every part is not highlighted at the same time. I also don’t lay out every aspect of her deep issues in every scene. But knowing what’s driving my heroine’s decisions affects how I portray her. Desires are sprinkled throughout, layered, shown in dialog, actions—big and small.

I promise you, taking the time to answer these questions has transformed my writing! And it will for you too.

Let me know how this works for you! And be sure to leave me your writing questions in the comments or on my website


  1. I love this, O, about how not all the notes in a symphony are played at once. We writers have lots of material, but it's going to be layered into the story a bit at a time, like a quilt. If we took quilt squares and stacked them up, sewed them together, and called it a blanket, people would laugh. But, if you take the squares and lay them out, stitching them side by side in a recognizable pattern, you've got a full-sized comforter when you're finished. The key: have most (preferably all) of the squares before you even start making the quilt. And definitely know your pattern. Can you tell I've been plotting this week? ;) Great post!

  2. Thanks, Net! Love your example of the quilt. Very true!


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