Conflict, change, and need

I’m not starting the first draft of Night Pictures until Monday, but I’ve been tweaking the outline a little, even adding in a whole new character and small subplot.

I’ve also been looking at the characters and their own, individual stories, which brought to mind a classic piece of writing 101. A story needs conflict and change. A character cannot be at the same place at the end of a book as they were at the beginning (change). In order to get from the beginning to the end, there needs to be something they need to overcome on their journey (conflict).

But there’s a third aspect of character and storytelling which is sometimes harder to pin down, although quite obvious. Everybody in real life is their own superhero. Your own life is a big story. Everybody has their own needs.

Asking what a character in a story needs is vital. It will be obvious for the main character – he/she needs to win the race, needs to defeat the villain, needs to find the magic key. Therein lies the change and conflict too – when the hero finds the magic key they are at a different place than they were at the beginning when they didn’t have it (although that’s only the overt representation of change; by claiming the key, something has changed inside them as well), and in order to get the key they’ve overcome their obstacles.

Easy.

But when it comes to secondary characters, you have to ask what they need. In some ways this is more important for secondary characters than change or conflict. Supporting characters often share the conflict and change of the main character, while having their own subplots or secondary story threads. But they also have needs – in their own mind, THEY are the hero of the story. It’s not enough for someone to be a sidekick to help punch bad guys, or to be a handsome stranger for the heroine to fall in love with. Everybody in the story needs something. If you can find out what it is, your character will have so much more depth.

Like I said, writing 101, but sometimes it’s good to think about the basics.