The secrets behind the practice of good writing: If you want for nothing – it’s the end of your story

 In Tips for Writers

In life people speak about “wanting for nothing” as though it’s a good thing.

Actually, in life and in stories, it’s not a good thing at all. It means, basically, that we’re ready for death. Sure, many of us should strive to make do with less, in material terms. We should want fewer “things”.

But we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t long for success, to produce something exceptional, perhaps for spiritual enlightenment.

As far as characters are concerned, there’s no such thing as wanting for nothing. Wanting things, longing for things, gives your character energy and intensity. It is essential to story.

Kurt Vonnegut said that every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

Their larger desires set up the basis for a story. When they want nothing and aren’t prepared to fight for anything, clearly you can close the book and go to bed.

But their smaller desire for, say, a glass of water, sets up tension on every page, and provides your characters with agency. Their smaller desires provide complexity.

No reader is that interested in following the travails of a passive character to whom things just happen. We have little patience with them. And, if they start out passive, they’d better gain some agency before too much time has elapsed.

In life, we tend not to find people compelling if there’s nothing at all they’re looking forward to. Why should we put up with it in a character.

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