I’ve read before that memorable characters have both an inner and an outer goal. Laurie Hultzer, in her power-packed little e-book, “How To Evaluate Stories,” says a solid story is framed around what the main character wants—and what he or she actually needs.
A character’s Want is a clear, simple, ego-driven, and obtainable goal that directly benefits this main character. It is concrete and specific. A character’s Need is a deep inner ache, yearning or longing that the character is unaware of, denies, suppresses, or ignores.
The action of a story is based on the conflict between the main character’s Want and Need. The tougher the choice the heroine has to make—the greater the risk she takes—the more satisfying (and probably more marketable) the story.
The resolution of a romance can vary. For example:
- The main character gets what she wanted, only to find that it is not satisfying. Reese Witherspoon’s character in Legally Blonde wants her boyfriend back. She follows him to college, takes his courses, interns at his firm, bests him at ‘lawyer-ing.’ When he sees her as desirable again, she realizes he is not what she wants anymore. In the comedy House Bunny, the heroine is kicked out of the Playboy mansion on her birthday. She lands at a sorority house for misfits and teaches them how to succeed socially. In the process, she learns to value herself, so when “Hef” finally invites her back, she doesn’t want to go back. She doesn’t want her original Want anymore.
- The main character gets what he or she wants, only to have it destroy him. In Dangerous Liasons, John Malkovich’s character wins the bet with Glenn Close and seduces Michelle Phillip’s character. By doing this, though, he destroys the only woman who has ever truly loved him, and ends up dying, too.
- The main character can abandon his or her original Want and embrace a deeper Need. Like a childless woman who finally adopts, falls in love with her adopted baby, and then gets pregnant, a character can discover a better Want—or end up getting the Want after all. When Vivian Ward in Pretty Woman refuses to become Edward Lewis’ mistress, she abandons her original Want for financial security. She gains the self-esteem she’s needed all along, and then in a true HEA, gets the whole enchilada of man, love and security.
Thanks to the advice, repeated in Laurie’s book, I am verifying that I have clearly defined (in my head) my new WIP's heroine’s Want and her Need. Then I will make sure as I write that I don't type into any dead ends. I will steer straight and escalate the tug-of-war between her want and her need.