5 Tips to give your character a desire and cause readers to Empathise
When you begin telling your story it’s important that readers understand what’s at stake for the main character – and the antagonist.
Every character has desires,needs and wants. Where do they come from?
many writers believe that back-story will answer the question of where the needs and desires come from, but that’s mostly not true.
Back-story tells us where the character has been and how they dealt with the circumstances of life at that time. The way they dealt with life at that time was probably similar to the present but they learned something from the experience. They had the same desires but different needs, back then.
When we look at character motivations we should look at the difference between the different layers of personality/character.
Characters have desires. Your job is to define what that desire is so that you, as author, can define it with razor-sharp precision. In life, whenever we decide we want something and set out to get it, we discover there are unforeseen problems stopping us from reaching our objective. We have stepped into the unknown, we wanted to better our lives through change but discovered that the change required adjustments. We have to tackle problems and overcome them before we finally get what we want.
Your character will want something. He or she may not know about it at first but as the story develops and character is challenged by the antagonist and other characters in the story, he will realise more and more what it is that he or she wants. The want or desire is going to give him what he needs but getting it is going to be a problem.
It’s the problem of getting it that creates a story.
Characters are always in conflict with themselves. This is what causes them to have problems adjusting to the story world around them. The conflict stems from deep within, conditioning that has formulated into belief will be an underlying motivator.
Many people from the sixties and seventies generations were raised with religious beliefs (today no so much) they find themselves having to live in a world that really doesn’t give a damn about religion, but the belief system of the dominant churches are so rigid and demanding that it’s hard to overcome even the most illogical beliefs. We will go to hell for being bad. Don’t question the church and it’s demands. In other words, if you think for yourself and create your own view of the world, you will go to hell, because the church said so. Thankfully, many people are questioning the authority of the church and discovering that they won’t be going to hell for enjoying life. For some people though, the conflict caused by these powerful messages, repeated over and over during childhood, are difficult to break away from. Imagine the conflict it causes these people. The same applies when we create a character. He or she must have a deep and powerful conflict that will cause real problems with an antagonist.
Two opposing football team supporters will experience enormous conflict when they meet. Neither of them is evil or wrong, but they both act like the other should go to hell anyway.
The conflict that a character experiences is now, not in the past. The past taught the character lessons and their test is to see if they can apply those lessons to their present life. These conflicts, if they are set right, will create a character arc that causes readers to go with your character to the end. The reader will want to know if the character has the guts and determination to overcome the odds and win through and destroy the antagonist.
Going into the past back-story will give you clues as to the kind of choices a character has made in life. Those clues should give you ideas about where the character stands now, today, and how those past experiences possibly lead to her present needs and desires.
Character must need something
When your character has a need he or she will be forced into action. You, as writer, put the character into a situation where they must take the initiative and do something about changing their life or situation. The need to protect themselves from the elements around themselves.
Characters who don’t need anything are dead wood, there’s no story to tell when your character is happy and has everything.
Problems are caused by need and desire in life. Your character needs to want something or recognise that he is being forced to accept a bad situation and therefore needs to change it.
When the need creates conflict we see the character in action, attempting to save his or her life, trying to stop someone from destroying their plans. It’s at these times that the reader will want to see the real inner character at work. People who are put on the spot or pushed into a corner in life always show their true face and act according to their beliefs, not their wishes and feelings.
When your character has to show his or her true self in order to overcome the odds, then we see all the bad problems come out or we see the best side of the person come out. Like a man who is jibed and joked with by his friends, he shows his everyday face of humour and tolerance. But when he is antagonised by aggressive and unfriendly people he may well show what’s down below, deep in his psyche somewhere there is a true saint or there is a psychopath which will emerge and deal with things according to his conditioning and belief system. His world view.
A deep personality
Your main character and antagonist should have various facets of personality that make them believable to the reader. A deep personality comes from the expression of conflict of character. It’s up to you as writer to decide on those personality traits which will create a deep and complex personality where conflict can arise.
Your character will drive your story and engage readers enough to make them care about what happens in the characters’ world. Don’t try to make readers like your character but do write so that readers will empathise with her, even if she is an absolute psychopath who would never want to meet in real life.