What do your characters want?

When I was first starting out, I had a few leg ups. One was, by the time I was sixteen, I was talking to writers who were already published. When I talked about my stuff, my mentors always made sure I kept what the main character wanted first and foremost in the scene.

I’ll admit, when I started out, I didn’t understand why it was important to have the main character want anything at all other than to keep everything exactly what it was in the beginning. I didn’t have the vocabulary to talk about it as maintaining the status quo, but that was exactly what it was. All my stories were something bad had happened, and the main character’s job was to go out, deal with the big evil, and come back to his home where everything would go back to the way it was.

Obviously, I was unpublished for a very long time. The hero’s journey specifically says that the hero can never go home again. Frodo, upon return to the shire, was miserably unhappy. Luke had evolved far too much to go back to being a moisture farmer. Any story is defined by the length of time it takes for the main character to change, whether it be a short story, a novella or a four book and growing book about a fae king and the people who love him, all stories focus on one character’s change.

In The Care and Feeding of Sex Demons, I was highly aware of making the tension of the piece not be “will Cy be able to go back into the relationship he’s had with Patrick these past five years,” but “will he be able to change enough to turn the fly-by-night relationship that they’ve been stringing along into something bigger and better than the both of them?”

Your character should want something more than just being afraid of change. The writing I wrote as a teenager revolved around the fear of leaving the house wrapped up in the inability teenagers have to plot their own course through life quite yet. As an adult, we have a thousand more wants and needs. Maintaining the status quo is the bare minimum amount of effort that can be called from an individual, in real life or in fiction. In real life, you should always be trying to learn something new.

In fiction, your characters should be shooting for the moon.

Only evil people in an evil world would want to maintain things they way they are. Everyone else should be at least trying to make things better.

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