Writing Exercise: Driven by Wants

Image courtesy of Theeradech Sanin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

People don’t move out of their comfort zone unless they have a Want. Neither do characters. Maybe it’s just to get away from the pain, but in those cases, usually the character doesn’t move further than the next room – away from the pain. Close door, forget the trouble, like they are a baby who hasn’t master the permanency of object. 

To get a character to move and keep moving, they need to have a deep Want. In romances, it could be finding and then being with that special person. In Urban Fantasy, they may Want to save the world – more likely, they Want to save their favorite pizza joint who delivers, saving the world as a by-product.

If a story has stalled out, if the characters are just looking and talking and not doing much, maybe a huge glass of Want needs to be added.

Edmund Schubert went into this in the magical word post “The Importance of Wanting in Fiction”, and a huge light bulb went off in my head. Next time my story stalls out, instead of just blowing something up (which a lot of writers recommend), I’m going to see what my characters want. What is driving them. More details can be found here (and be sure to read the comments): (11/3/2023 – They have finally taken down the magicalwords.net.)

Want is also agency, or, more accurately, the ability to pursue and make choices to get what one wants. Want is very important to a character.

WRITING EXERCISE: For your current work-in-progress (WIP), write down what all the characters want by the end of the story. For a scene giving you trouble, write down what each character wants (1) in the next 10 years – their driving life plan; (2) by the end of the book – about a week out; (3) right now – by the end of the scene. Is the scene Want going to met (ending the scene) or change (also ending the scene, but now the character has a different driving Want)?

WRITING EXERCISE 2: Let’s play mad-libs for a moment. Think of a “noun”. Now a “person”. Okay, this is a person and their Want. Write a flash on it.


(my example added 11/15/2019) “Three” and “Editor”. 

An Editor Counts to Three

One, two … One, two … No matter how many times Janey counted, she couldn’t make it three manuscripts. She had put out a discount call on her website and Facebook. Three manuscripts would pay for her week’s bills, even if the final one was discounted by 20%. Only two would mean something would have to give.

Food most likely. She wasn’t sure about giving up dinner for a week again. Last time she started getting dizzy about Wednesday.

Maybe she should email blast her publisher friends to see if they have things, but most of them pay when the product gets published, not on delivery of an edit. Small presses suck for income; people who work for small presses are in an even bigger bind.

Nothing doing, except by the doing. Janey winged off the blast hoping against hope and sat down to complete the edits on the second manuscript. She had already sent the first one back hoping a third would come in while she worked on the first. When she started the second, she had done her “flash sale” to no effect.

Style sheet, cover sheet, and annotated manuscript number two appended to an email. Clicking sent, Janey moved to close Outlook when a ping sounded. In the lower left corner of her screen a little blurb of an incoming email flashed, “Greenman@EarthColony.US – manuscript available – Dear Janey Curtpatrick, I saw your flash sale. I have a four-book epic fantasy in need of …”

She quickly clicked on the black box before it went away and it opened to the full message. “…editing, but before I make such a large investment, I would like to meet in person and get a feel. I notice your website says you operate out of Riverside. By lucky coincidence, I flew in from the West for a conference this week. I’m available tonight at the Hilton, could you drop by? I’m sorry for any inconvenience and will pay for dinner. Would seven work? – Sincerally, Mr. John Greenman.”

A four-book epic fantasy!?! That is some serious cash. 

While she usually bumped into new clients at cons, Janey didn’t see much danger in meeting a new client at a hotel. Especially if he would feed her. Lunch had been skipped getting the last edit out. Hopefully he would be on a expense account, and she could pick up enough food to get a couple days worth of doggie bags. Even if things don’t work out for the fantasy series, and she hoped it did, she could still end up with enough food for this week.

She typed out a quick reply before rushing to get ready. (words 450, first published 11/15/2019)