One bit of advice I was given about writing
was to post a sign on the wall above my desk asking:
What does your character want?
The next bit of advice was, whatever your character wants, don’t let him have it.
No, I don’t actually have such a sign hanging up in MLWR (My Little Writing Room), but the idea behind it is solid. Good stories are built from conflict, and the two essential conflicts we all face in life are:
- We have something we don’t want
- We want something we don’t have
Learning to make a character miserable is one of the key principles for fiction-writing, but I’m not actually here today to write about my stories.
I’m here to answer another question from my handy-dandy little “Question and Answer” book. Yes, it’s a question about what I want. When I read it, I felt a bit like a character in one of my novels, someone who’s being denied something I desire.
The question in full reads:
What was something you wanted today, but couldn’t have?
I find that a very awkward question since it’s not yet even 9:00 AM. Maybe the book is meant to be read at night. For me, it works better at the start of the day, so I’ll have to tweak this one a bit to make it work.
I could look back at yesterday. Was there something I wanted but couldn’t have? Maybe, but I can’t think of anything at the moment.
What about this morning? Have I wanted something I haven’t been able to get? Again, I’m sitting here staring off into the distance, unable to think of an answer.
Do I lead a charmed life? Do I have everything I want? No, of course not. I do, however, lead a very contented life. I’m happy with what I have. I’m reminded of another sign I’ve often seen. I don’t have one of these hanging on the wall either, but maybe I should.
I do believe this is true. Life offers so many beautiful moments for us to enjoy, so many treasures to experience. Our world gives us blue skies, rainy mornings, gorgeous flowers, briliantly-plumed birds. We can laugh at the antics of playful puppies, curious kittens, new-born foals. We can know the love of tenderness of family and friends, and can be touched by random acts of kindness from others. What more could we want than what we’re given?
Oh…I can think of a few things. I’m sure you can, too.
I wish I could snap my fingers and my messy house would instantly be in perfect order. I wouldn’t mind having a few more dollars in my bank accounts, and sure, I’d love to make the NY Times best-seller list.
If I had unlimited funds, I’d renew my subscription to Strategy and Tactics, a war-gaming magazine that I thoroughly enjoy but which is a bit pricey. I’d buy a lot more books, too. I’d make generous donations to my favorite charities and organizations, including Reach Out and Read, The Cat House on the Kings, and the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary.
If money were no object, I’d probably splurge and buy myself lots of fancy kitchen gadgets, and I’d probably go crazy buying bath towels, bed sheets, candles, and oils. Yeah, there are lots of things I’d enjoy, but I see them as little luxuries, not necessities for a happy life.
Maybe as the day unfolds, I’ll think of something I might want…but can’t have. Right now, I can’t imagine what it might be. Unless…
Aha! I’ve got it. What I wanted this morning but couldn’t get was an answer to this question!