I’m finishing up my NaNo Prep and psyching myself up for November 1 when I attempt to write 50,000 words of a novel in one month.
I got some writing advice from my son who graduated in Literature from UC Santa Barbara’s College of Creative Studies
He told me to add depth to my characters I should explore their “needs and wants.”
When my kids were in Catholic elementary school, a teacher explained the difference between needs and wants. I remember being impressed with how the teacher brought this lesson down to their age level. It was something that I hadn’t thought about explaining to my kids. Yet, it’s such a crucial life lesson. When you’re raising kids, they often have a lot of things they “need.” They want to fit in with their peers and when one friend gets the latest whatever, they feel they need it, too.
When my kids told me they “needed” a colorful iPod mini or a deck of Pokemon cards, I answered smugly, “Is this something you need—or something you want?”
I pretty much think they always believed it was something they needed.
Here’s how my son ended up giving me advice on needs and wants in fiction writing:
Several years ago, I was telling him how I was struggling with a rewrite of a mid-grade novel but was beginning to have a break-through. I hired an editor to review my manuscript and the main thread of advice was to add depth to my main characters. I have a “good” protagonist and an “evil” antagonist. It’s a book about friendships and growth in character, yet my characters are pretty shallow and flimsy Definitely one dimensional. My son suggested I look at their “needs and wants.”
Seriously? The child who “needed” so many material things is now lecturing me on “needs and wants?” Yes, and in literature, he explained, needs and wants takes on a subtle but different meaning. I found a good article “What your character wants versus what they need” from the Novel Factory. Here’s an excerpt:
What your character wants
We all want something. Some of us crave power, others long for heaps of cash, others want five minutes of fame. Some of us dream of having a baby, or a picture perfect wedding. Then of course there are more specific goals, like to win Countdown, to meet David Attenborough or to bake the perfect flan.
At the outset of your novel, you need to establish what it is your character wants – what it is that they are pursuing? What do they believe will give them a feeling of satisfaction?
What your character needs
However, there is something else under the surface, and that is what your character needs.
There are very few things human beings actually need, in order to be happy, and most of the things we fixate on wanting only obscure the really important things.
The things we need can usually be distilled to one thing: love.
This bit of advice from my son was eye-opening. I truly love my kids. They both continue to amaze me with their wisdom and good advice.
Have you explained to your kids about needs and wants? Have you used needs and wants to develop your characters in writing? What are your needs and wants in blogging?