Use your characters’ hopes and dreams to bring them to life

Nathan Bransford, TVWriter™’s favorite publishing know-it-all, is a big believer in hopes and dreams, for writers, readers, and the characters we write and read all about.

by Nathan Bransford

You probably already know that motivation is everything in a novel. Nearly everything worth reading flows from a character who wants something and actively goes after it.

In writing advice land it’s popular to subdivide a character’s motivations into conscious motivations and unconscious motivations. Meaning, there’s something on the surface that’s motivating the character (saving the galaxy, defeating the dragon, figuring out what to eat for lunch) and there’s something lurking underneath the surface in their psyche that’s driving them (pride, vanity, hunger).

I don’t think about it this way.

Believe me, I’ve tried. I’ve dreamed up wonderfully complex outlines that chart a character’s unconscious motivations with psychological complexity that would make Freud blush.

It never worked for me.

Here’s what does work: showing a character’s hopes and dreams with a great deal of specificity.

Why hopes and dreams are important

There are two main reasons it’s helpful to show a character’s hopes and dreams.

First, it helps establish the stakes. Showing what the protagonists hopes will happen if they succeed helps the reader understand why the events of the novel matter….

Read it all at

Need help with your book? Nathan is available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and coaching!

For my best advice, check out Nathan’s guide to writing a novel (now available in audio) and his guide to publishing a book.

And if you like this post: subscribe to Nathan’s newsletter!