Peggy Bechko on Your Characters’ Needs & Desires

The Joker’s Wants vs. Batman’s Needs – now THAT’s conflict!

by Peggy Bechko

When you begin crafting a story have you taken into consideration the needs and wants of your main characters?

You should. Because when you get down to it, those are the driving forces of your story.

Now many people may jump up and yell, no, it’s conflict! “If there isn’t conflict, there isn’t a story.” But where does that conflict come from?

I’d say it comes from the main characters’ desires.

What that character needs or wants, or both, is the driving engine of any story. It’s what pushes and pulls the characters in directions you probably didn’t imagine when starting the storytelling process. And that pushing and pulling, causes the villain and/or the hero/heroine to end up in places they could never have imagined at the outset.

So, what are the things a character might need or want?

Let’s go to the very obvious first. The basics of life and survival. You, as writer, must tie those needs and desires into your story in logical ways your audience is going to identify with. It’s part of being human.

So, the first are the basics. Every one of us needs food, water, air to breathe, clothes to ward off the elements and hopefully shelter of some sort to pass a night (or day for that matter) in security.

Fact is, if any of those things are lacking (air as an immediate for sure!) then the character is going to be wrapped up with fulling that need before anything else. These very basic human needs can be the basis of your story as in a disaster flick with someone stuck in a collapsed building and running out of air, or they can simply be a more of a background setting. Think Revenant as an example of sheer survival needs.

At the other end of the spectrum is the character whose very existence is not threatened by the circumstances of life. The character who wants to explore deeper meanings in life. Such a character probably is set when it comes to food, clothes, air, etc. He or she wants to understand life more thoroughly. Wants to discover and create, so the needs and desires become different.

That character might want to go to college, to pursue something in an artistic vein, to travel, seek the spiritual core or serve others in some fashion. The needs and desires of that character would send a story off in a completely different direction than the simple meeting of very basic needs mentioned above.

That’s not to say there can’t be a combination of those goals. Of course they can be combined, overlap and even bounce off each other.

And there are a whole lot of other needs and desires in between the basics of survival and the esoteric of the spiritual seeker such as the need for love and belonging, for self-esteem and fame or just being appreciated.

And this brings us back to is how I began. Yes, conflict is the core of your story, but what causes that conflict is the needs and desires of your core characters. You definitely need and should want to take those desires and needs into consideration before you get too far along on your storytelling journey.

Peggy Bechko is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. Learn more about her sensational career HERE. Peggy’s new comic series, Planet of the Eggs, written and illustrated with Charlene Brash-Sorensen is available on Kindle. And, while you’re at it, visit the Planet of the Eggs Facebook page and her terrific blog.