What do our desires even mean, anyways?

Writing: Character’s Desires

Preface: I am acutely aware that what I am about to describe is already established as the “hero myth” made known by Joseph Campbell that was published in the late 1940s. It’s a fabulous observation and quite brilliant in my opinion. It shows a lot about human psychology and why a lot of stories have worked and why some have not. That’s why I have my own thoughts on it. I did not develop that on my own nor am I trying to say that I did.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, I will take a quick detour to explain.

The Hero’s Journey is a certain pattern found within stories that was brought to light by a man named Joseph Campbell in his book, The Hero With A Thousand Faces. The pattern not only appears in the stories we tell, and enjoy, but it explains why we latch on to heroes that we see in our stories. It takes the archetype of ‘The Hero’ and defines them as the person that goes out to achieve great things or deeds for the sake of something.

Now, there isn’t just ‘The Hero’ that is included in the pattern but there are many aspects and moments including ‘The Call to Adventure,’ ‘Meeting of the Mentor,’ and ‘Crossing the Threshold’ are just some of the main points.

If this still doesn’t make sense, and you think I’m full of complete craziness, imagine the journey as a clock with each hour representing a step of the journey. The Hero comes full circle but the Ordinary world will never be completely the same to them again but they have still returned nonetheless.

The mono-myth is an in-depth, exact, and basic formula for an author to use to write their story if they so wished. Just about every successful hero-story has followed the mono-myth to a certain extent. I would say that the popular example would be the story of Luke Skywalker in Star Wars. It’s true that maybe George Lucas did not follow this “formula” intentionally but it just so happens that our hero, Luke, is just as generic as a hero can get — sans the Force thing.

And yes, I did cringe and almost shed a tear while writing that.

I personally believe, in some kind of agreement with Campbell, that this is a story arch that genuinely shows mankind’s idealistic nature: we all innately want to be redemptive heroes. Sure, nowadays it can be belittled down into something like a hero-complex. If that was the case, though, why else would we cling to our hero stories if not that somewhere deep down in there we did not also want to feel that in our own lives? That’s why we connect so well to heroes and that’s why if they’re more relatable they are undoubtedly more interesting to the reader.

Then again, there are a lot of characters that are interesting for their own reasons.

I digress,

Now I hope I haven’t scared you off with all of that.

I promise you’re going to be able to walk away from this with something to help with your writing.

Even if this is a little long, I know we’re going to get through this together.

My first post on writing from the other day, today’s post, and a few more are going to be a section of blogs on developing your characters. Call it a series, if you will.

This post alone gets down deep and, in my favorable opinion, will surely help you when you’re stuck on whether or not your character’s desires are being met by the path you’re on and where you’re going in your story..


WARNING: I am aware that this won’t give you ideas for scenes, for chapters, or even for your character’s story! I’m not promising to do that. That’s not my job. My job today is to help enlighten you as to why you should have a well thought out plan of conflict between your hero and your villain. I am no where near a planner but I must say that knowing exactly what your protagonist wants, and what your antagonist wants, will surely help drive what it is you need to get done.

First, you need to take your character and decide what their biggest desire is. This is probably a step that can only be accomplished once a bit of world building has been done. Honestly, *shakes hands innocently in the air* don’t get too discouraged and/or scared. The amount of world building described in my last post will suffice for this. You don’t need to have every single thing in your world figured out. If you’re really trying to do things in a very minimal fashion, it helps to do a bit of world building beforehand but if you have the society your character is in figured out, your character’s identity, and your character’s main traits, then you can allow yourself to begin.

I find that if a character’s desire is not properly stated, or felt, then the character can sometimes get lost in it all. Spiraling out of control and getting pulled along in a story that was once theirs but now isn’t because it’s not their conflict anymore. If the protagonist’s desire isn’t properly met with the antagonist’s desire, and vice versa, then the conflict has shifted and the protagonist no longer has a reason for their story to be told.

Basically, all the hard work you would have done would just fall into one fat steamy pile of crap because the protagonist’s desires wasn’t fully thought out.

Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the story can’t be salvaged. No, I believe that everything can have a second chance. This would just take quite a bit of white-out and having to change a lot of work that was probably painstakingly created by you in the wee hours of the morning due to the fact that us writer’s aren’t able to flex our creativity muscles in anything but an ungodly hour.

Is that just me?

I surely hope not.

Still, we don’t want your work to be for naught.

We definitely don’t want that. These characters are your baby! This hero is supposed to inspire people and the villain is supposed to show us why the we need to be like the hero. Okay, you can have your own opinion about villains. I’m not opening that can of worms.

We want a hero/heroine that succeeds and can absolutely demolish villains with just the end of their naked pinky alone!

*chirp* *chirp*

I’m just kidding, we want realistic heroes that are complex and interesting and that are real people. Sure, some of you may want god-like characters but, to me, those aren’t heroes but something else entirely. They’re champions and real people aren’t champions. Champions eat their Wheaties for breakfast. But it takes a lot of work to create real and flawed people.

So, let’s finally get started then now that I’ve prefaced it with enough blabber.

First, let’s go over some vocabulary that I am going to use in this post.

Oh, don’t worry, there will actually be a quiz at the end of this on the vocab so pay attention. And it’s not multiple choice you wimps.

Normalcy: The “ordinary world” if you’re familiar with the mono-myth. If you’re not familiar, this is what I call the standard norm/home for our hero. Think: The Shire.

Contentment: The character’s peace. This is similar to the normalcy but it is an inner feeling had by the hero and not just their environment. Think: Frodo’s innocence before he knew of the power The Ring has.

Will: Basically, this is the will power and determination of the character to succeed. It can also be considered resiliency but it is something that the hero chooses to have and not something that they are. A hero can choose to have will power but a hero can only be resilient. Think: Frodo’s dedication to bringing The Ring to Mordor rather than letting someone else do it.

Hero: Okay, I am fully aware that unless I add heroine to this it is not generally assumed as a gender neutral term. However, in the context of this post, and any blog I post from now on, this will be a gender neutral term. The hero of your story is your protagonist and your protagonist can be male, female, or whomever or whatever you want them to be! I’ve decided it.

Villain: In the context of this post, we are going to generalize the villain as just the antagonist. I know, I hate generalizations, too. And I understand that in some situations a villain is not necessarily the antagonist but the antagonist is, in fact, a villain. So, for the sake of simplicity, the villain I speak of is the antagonist. Who you add to your story afterwards is up to you to decide.

Now, here’s something that I am convinced of: the story is driven by your characters’ desires. I’ve discussed that before and I’m sure that it has been said by thousands of other authors.

However, I am also convinced that you shouldn’t believe everything that the internet tells you. So, how can I prove this commonly spoken/written phrase to you? Well, if the hero doesn’t desire something, then the hero doesn’t need anything. If the hero doesn’t need something, then, by default, the hero doesn’t have a reason for their story to be told.

Example: If Frodo doesn’t want to save the Shire, then Frodo doesn’t need to bring the Ring to Mordor. If Frodo doesn’t need to bring the Ring to Mordor, then there’s no story to be told of Frodo bringing the Ring to Mordor.

We desire — no, our stories require — active characters in order for them, as a whole, to succeed.

Please refer to the bit above about not planning your hero’s desires out and steamy piles of crap.

Our heroes need to have the will to win and without that they will not succeed.

Now, conflict is made when one force wants something that opposes what another force wants. Look at physical things in our world to help you: the unbelievably strong gust of a tornado, a determined force, meets a firmly planted house, another very strong force, but the result of the storm is that the house gets torn apart.

The problem is the two brought together: the tornado’s wind wants to blow but the house wants to stay standing. Because there isn’t an issue if the house isn’t there and there’s a tornado. It’s also true that in return, if there’s no tornado, then the house is fine.

Boom, conflict.

You see, every villain has their own desires that either intentionally or unintentionally go against the hero’s desires. The villain can’t just be bad for the sake of being bad. Even the Joker has desires even if they are far beyond anything any sane man should think up. Your villain needs to have their own code but no one says that it has to be aligned with the hero’s code. It must do the opposite, actually.

Earlier, I did state that the story is driven by the characters’ desires. However, I must admit that the statement is a generalization on its own. Notice how I didn’t use hero, or villain, but I used character. This, vaguely, means that the conflict between the protagonist and the antagonist is what drives the rest of the story. The hero’s desires may spark the story but it is really down to the conflict to make the rest of it interesting.

Like in my previous post, a good exercise is to write down your hero’s desire followed by two obstacles stopping them. Once that is complete, write out your villain’s desire followed by two obstacles. Then, look at both of your characters. Does at least one of the obstacles for each character overlap with the other’s desire?

The story is about the two overcoming each other. In the end, whoever has more will to win will succeed. And the process needs to repeat until your hero wins. It’s as simple as that.

Yeah, Caitlyn, it’s as simple as running a marathon through maple syrup.

Now, I am going to show you my own simplified version of the Hero’s Journey as a building block to help make sure you’re on somewhat of a paved path for your own story. I use this for every story I write to gain some traction. However, this does not, under any circumstances, mean that you can to use it to write your story. This is justly method and, heck, I’m not even published, yet. But I’ve seen that it does work for other stories, like with Joseph Campbell’s observations, and I like to think that it can help other prepare for NanoWriMo or just for their writing in general.

This is to develop and evaluate your character’s desires. There are seven steps to help you establish them and look back to make sure that they’re in line with each other.

1.) Normalcy:

Our hero’s contentment must be established. Their life is the standard life for everyone around them. The hero is fine and they’re just going about their life in the same way every day.

So, looking at your character and the bit of world building that you’ve done, what does their normalcy look like. It doesn’t necessarily have to be their utopia but it should be standard for them. I think that there should be a bit that they don’t like about their world but they see it as home so it is their norm.

  • Describe this normalcy for yourself and how the character would describe it.

2.) Villain Questions Contentment:

The villain is the one to question the contentment and the normalcy first. If they don’t create a reason for the hero to desire the return of the normalcy, then the hero wouldn’t have a desire for the return of the normalcy.

I know that’s redundant. Leave me alone.

The normalcy is then, coincidentally, disrupted by the villain.

So, why does the villain question it? Why on earth could they want the normalcy to be different if everything is just fine the way it is? This could stem from something in their childhood, this could be from some flaw they see in the environment, or anything you wish.

  • Write our five reasons why from their perspective. Writing this in the first person helps, too.

3.) Lack of Normalcy Must Be Acknowledged by our Hero:

The hero has to notice that things aren’t the way they are supposed to be. This is similar to the Call to Action by Campbell. This is where the hero can either be resigned to the call, forced into it, accepting of it, or whatever other reason you can think of. Whichever way you choose, the hero must accept in their heart that this is what has happened.

How does your character respond to this acknowledgment? If you’re not sure, write out several possibilities and scenes to prompt you to find what way would work best for your character’s character. Write them from different perspectives and hearing the call from different people or just even just from them realizing it in their own thought.

Do they accept it? Do they deny it at first and then reluctantly agree that it’s a bad thing for there to be a lack of normalcy?

4.) The Hero’s Declaration:

This is where the Hero decides that they want to have the normalcy back and that they have the will to fight whoever is causing this. The hero most likely does not know who caused this in the early stages. Most of the time, that is why they’re usually very willing to accept the fight: the villain has made it personal to them. Though, once the villain is made known, they must declare their will power to the villain and vice versa.

  • How does their declaration feel? Is it influenced by a loss like when Luke Skywalker realizes that he has no reason left to stay on Tatooine due to his aunt and uncle being killed? Does your character have rage or any other emotion? Describe if from their perspective and your own.

5.) The Villain’s Declaration:

In turn, it is important to know the villain’s dedication to his cause whether you blatantly state it in your story or not. Either way, the villain must declare that their lack of normalcy is necessary. This means that the villain needs a reason to change the normalcy. Their desire is important, too. Remember, this is where the conflict is born between the hero and villain and this is where the story will root.

  • Look back to what you wrote above about the villain questioning the normalcy of the story. Why dedicate themselves to it now? Why not five years ago? Is this part of a plan? Are they finally fed up with the way the normalcy is so normal? Write out their dedication even if it is something as simple as an inner monologue.
  • I’ll even give you a prompt:
“This is it, I’m deciding it. Today is going to be the day I look back at and smile.”

6.) Both Must Be Willing to Get Their Normalcy to Reign:

It is now established that both the hero and the villain are determined to get their idea of normalcy, or just their desire, to return. And if it hasn’t, it needs to be. This shows that both are determined as hell to get what they want. Again, we want active characters and not passive ones. This means that the hero will train for whatever may come and the villain will train in their own way. Sometimes this means rallying troops or gaining allies. Whatever it is depends on what your characters need to help them succeed.

  • What does your hero need to succeed? Do they need to take down the evil king that wants to force the land to submit to their darkness? If so, how do they prepare mentally and physically for that?
  • What does your villain need to succeed? Do they need to take down some wimpy kid that might have a dragon and a mentor that is an awesome wizard or something? If so, how do they prepare mentally and physically for that? Are they searching for an item that will force the land to submit to their darkness? How do they get this item?

Hint: there seems to always be an item of some kind.

7.) Whoever Is More Willing Shall Conquer:

When the hero and villain meet, whoever has more will to win will inevitably win. I’ve stated this several times already and I know you’re probably getting tired of hearing this. However, this is also determined by who has prepared more — meaning, who isn’t just more willing within the two characters’ interactions but within their preparations for their meetings.

That’s basically it. In the end, whoever is more willing to win shall win.

  • From your perspective, who have you prepared more to win? That’s sort of what it draws down to when it comes to actual scene making for your story. What mentors have you given your hero? What powers have you given your villain?

This is where you can help yourself and go back to fill in the blanks your might have left yourself in preparing your characters.

Now, I know that this is short but steps six and seven can repeat several times over before your hero will win. Obviously, there’s a lot more in the Hero’s Journey that happens but — again — this is to establish your character’s desires and that is it. Once and for all, in the end, your hero’s normalcy must be reinstated for your story to be complete.

If you want your villain to win then you need to just tell it from their perspective.

That’s just my blunt two cents.

And don’t think I’m retelling that cheesy cliche: well, the hero ALWAYS WINS, CAITLYN — I will seriously super glue post-it notes all over your car if you think that’s the message I am trying to convey here. No, I am just a firm believer in the idea that everyone is the hero of their own story and if you’re telling that person’s story then you better well complete it or I will revoke your typing license. Yes, that will force you to never be able to type again and only write out all of your manuscripts by hand.

Are you really prepared for those hand cramps?

Though, I must add that I think it is fully acceptable for your hero to die if, AND ONLY IF, you have more than one hero. On second thought, let’s change this to if you have a lot of heroes. If you only have one hero then don’t kill them off because that takes a lot more planning than I think a lot writers are willing to put in the time for. But if you have ambition to make it good then I say go for it.

But here we are, this is my advice to help you fully know your character’s desires. It was a bit long and I apologize for that. Actually, I can’t apologize. This is my post and I do what I want.

What do you mean I can’t insert that gif here???

Well, that will be discussed.

Oh! Also, no quiz. I was just kidding. I hope you weren’t too stressed.

Originally published at Caitlyn Elise.

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