Miss Eleanor Fitt

How to Craft Characters: Desperate Needs

Character2This is the second post in this series (find the first post on voice and opening lines here).

To recap, here are the components I consider most important when crafting my characters (note: this might be VERY different from what you do, and that’s 100% okay):

  • Voice
  • Desperate need
  • Backstory/history
  • Behavioral/speaking quirks
  • Looks/physical quirks

Today we’re talking about desperate needs–or what your character wants so desperately that he/she will do anything to get it. Some people think of this as the “goal.”

There are two kinds of desperate needs/goals: external need and internal need.

The external need is a thing that the character wants. That thing–be it saving someone, stopping someone, finding something, delivering something, etc.–drives your external plot. There are tangible stakes linked to the external need.

So for example, Eleanor (in Something Strange & Deadly) wants to find her brother and stop the evil necromancer. Those are her external needs, and if she fails, then lots of people will die (our stakes!).

The internal need is what the character wants on a personal, spiritual level. Oftentimes, he/she isn’t even aware that he/she wants this, and the stakes are much more emotional in nature.

Eleanor’s internal need is to learn how to think for herself. If she doesn’t solve this, she’ll be forever unhappy and bossed around by her family/society.

Now, oftentimes, the external need cannot be achieved until the internal need is. In other words, our hero can’t save the day without first becoming a better person–Eleanor isn’t equipped to face the necromancer until she has learned to think for herself.

But the tricky thing about internal needs is that they’re directly related to a character’s deepest fear. In other words: the internal need comes from the character’s deepest internal fear.

Now, I’m not talking Indiana Jones’s fear of snakes here. I mean something emotional. Something the character probably doesn’t even know he/she is afraid of.

Take Eleanor again: she’s afraid that the people she loves will leave her (or stop loving her) if she doesn’t do what they ask. This fear leads her to a sort of chain:

Deepest Fears → Internal Need → External Need

Eleanor’s fear of being alone and unloved leads to her always doing what her mother and other people want. This in turn makes her internally need to learn be happy with autonomy and make her own choices. Until she learns how to decide for herself and give up “people pleasing,” she can’t meet her external need of stopping the evil necromancer that’s threatening Philadelphia.

It’s because these needs and fears are so deeply entwined in the story’s outcome and in the progression of story events that I consider them to be the second most important component of character development.

So…how do I figure out what the needs and fears are?

 

Finding the Needs & the Fears

To start, I write the book.

Helpful advice, I know. 😉 But it’s true. Oftentimes, I’ll only have the voice, the opening line, and a vague idea of the story I want to write. And that’s enough.

Why? Because knowing the general plot gives me my character’s external need. When I started writing Something Strange & Deadly, I knew Eleanor was searching for her missing brother. Which means she NEEDS to find her brother! External need, check!

As I wrote on and sank more deeply into Eleanor’s voice and emotions, I realized she was bossed around by her mother and society. She wasn’t very happy about it, either. Seeing these scenes unfold and feeling Eleanor’s emotions in them gave me her internal need.

And of course, as I wrote on, I uncovered snippets of her backstory. Her father had died when she was young, her brother had run off to tour the world (and left his family penniless), and her mother had gone off the deep end from grief. To add to it all, Eleanor’s friends and the high society she’d grown up with had abandoned her. What few people she still had left in her life, she clung to out of fear that they’d leave her too.

So from that backstory, I now knew Eleanor’s deepest fear.

Basically I discover my character in the reverse of the cause/effect list above:

External Need → Internal Need → Deepest Fears

 

How This Can Work for You

I realize that not all of you are plantsers (a.k.a. headlights outliners), and I also realize not all of you are starting a new project. You might be halfway through or revising even. You might be sticking like glue to an outline or you might be totally winging it.

Either way, you can apply needs and fears to your writing.

If you’re an outliner and just starting a first draft: Sort out your character’s desperate needs (internal and external) as well as your character’s deepest fears while you’re outlining (or before, even). Then make sure that your character’s needs and fears jive with the events you’ve planned. Remember that characters take action based on who they are, and who they are is a combination of needs and fears.

If you’re a pantser or already finished with a draft: Discover the needs/fears as you write, or–if that’s too “structured for you”–figure it out after you’re finished. You can always revise the story to fit the needs and fears you’ve uncovered during the course of writing (I almost always have to do this), and you can make sure the emotional dominoes all line up.

And that concludes part 2 in this How to Craft Characters series.

You tell me: Do you work with desperate needs/goals or deep fears when creating characters? And if you’re in the midst of drafting a story now, can you pinpoint the needs/fears?

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Book Club Recap & Final Winner!

I am at Dragon*Con right now–probably wondering the booths for a new Star Wars t-shirt–so I’ll keep this brief.

Thank you again to everyone who participated in the Something Strange & Deadly book club, both here and on Epic Reads.

You all are truly quite amazing and I love you for it.

On that note, the winner of last week’s giveaway (for a SIGNED copy of Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass + signed copies of SS&D or ADS&L) is…

Sara of the Page Sage!

Thank you so much, Sara! And everyone else who joined in and was generally AWESOME throughout August. There are not enough ♥s to express how much I appreciate your interactions.

To everyone who signed up for the participation prize: Because I am out of town for the next two weeks, it will probably take me a bit of time to get you your prizes (A Dawn Most Wicked or an extra scene from A Darkness Strange & Lovely). Please bear with me–I haven’t forgotten you!!

If you still need to sign up for a participation prize, you can do that here. 🙂

And, in case you signed up but didn’t have a chance to participate, here’s a recap of all the month’s posts, discussions, and extra content.

Week 1

Discussion questions + historical extras

Listen/watch me read chapter in Something Strange & Deadly

List of discussions across the web

Week 2

Discussion questions + historical extras

Musical playlist that goes along with chapter 19 from Something Strange & Deadly

List of discussions across the web

Week 3

Discussion questions + fun extras

My dream cast for Something Strange & Deadly: the movie (that does not exist…yet)

List of discussions across the web

Week 4

Discussion questions + fun extras

Musical playlist that goes along with the opening scenes in A Darkness Strange & Lovely

List of final discussions across the web

Enjoy! And again, thank you. I’ll be back to the blogosphere in 2 weeks. À bientôt!

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Something Strange & Deadly, Final Discussions!

First off, let me start this post by sharing my Dragon*Con schedule (since that’s where I’ll be all of Labor Day weekend). Sarah J. Maas and I will be chillin’ like villains–and IN COSTUME, no less–while planning out more of our Starkillers Cycle during every free second we get.

Friday:

    • Find me at the SFWA Booth at ~3 PM (near the Artists’ & Comics’ Alley)

    Saturday:

      • 11:30 AM: Advice for Young Writers; Location: A707 – Marriott
      • 8:30 PM: Historical Fiction and Steampunk Themes; Location: A707 – Marriott 

      Sunday:

        • 1:00 PM: Reading with Sarah J. Maas; Location: Vinings – Hyatt
        • 2:30 PM: Autograph Sessions; Location: International Hall South – Marriott

        Now then: ON TO THE BOOK CLUB! (Read more…)

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        A Darkness Strange & Lovely, Opening Playlist

        First off, if you haven’t yet participated in the Epic Reads discussions, I urge you to! They have lots of awesome conversations going on about Something Strange & Deadly. 🙂

        Second, if you missed our FINAL DISCUSSION QUESTIONS (plus the chance to win a signed copy of Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas), head here.

        As hard as this might be to believe, Chapter 19 happens to be my favorite chapter in A Darkness Strange & Lovely. Yep, that’s right–it’s the EXACT same chapter number as my favorite in Something Strange & Deadly. And it’s not that I don’t love all the other chapters in book 2, but I had a massive case of writer’s block right before Chapter 19 in ADS&L. After days of pulling out my hair, the light finally burst through the clouds…and chapter 19 all the way to the end just poured out of me.

        So, if you’ve read A Darkness Strange & Lovely or are reading it now, be sure to remember that when you read chapter 19. 😉

        BUT, since I know many of you wonderful readers haven’t yet read A Darkness Strange & Lovely, much less read Chapter 19, I didn’t want to spoil those scenes with a playlist breakdown. Instead, I thought I’d share a playlist that goes with the opening scenes of A Darkness Strange & Lovely.

        Nothing to spoilery here. 😉

        First, I’ll share the actual playlist so you can listen, and then I’ll break down which piece I associate with which pages. AND, I’ve got the first 85 pages of the book embedded below that so you can listen and read along. 🙂 Enjoy!

        (Read more…)

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        Something Strange & Deadly Book Club FINAL WEEK!

        Welcome to the final week in the Something Strange & Deadly book club!

        If you missed the wonderful discussions last week, be sure to check them out here. I’ve listed all the people who shared their responses with me via the participation prize form and week 3 giveaway form. 🙂

        Now, to choose the winner of the third week’s prizes–a signed copy of Goddess Test by Aimée Carter, a signed copy of SS&D or ADS&L, and signed swag…

        Caitlin & Laura!

        Thank you to everyone who participated, and look below for THE FINAL WEEK’S AWESOME PRIZES! 😉

        Oh, and–whether you participate in this book club or not–you’ll definitely want to stop by the Epic Reads discussion board!

        In fact, if you join in (or have already) the Epic Reads discussions, you get an extra entry in this week’s giveaway!! (Read more…)

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        SS&D Book Club, Week 3 Discussions!

        I can’t believe the third awesome week in our book club is already over! Waah! Only one more week to go! And, as you all have every week, you’ve totally impressed me with your answers.

        If you’d still like to join in on the discussions, then that’s TOTALLY cool and I’d love to have you! Just be sure you sign up for it on this form. 🙂

        If you missed my movie casting on Wednesday, make sure to drop by. I’d love to hear who YOU envision playing the various characters.

        This could totally be a movie still from Something Strange & Deadly, the Movie (coming to a theater near you when pigs fly).

        (Read more…)

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        Something Strange & Deadly Movie Cast…if a movie actually existed

        I know I’ve shared my various desired actresses/actors for Something Strange & Deadly, the Movie (coming to a theater near you in the summer of never), but I’m not sure I’ve ever shared my ideal movie cast on my website.

        So, as part of the Something Strange & Deadly Book Club, I thought I’d lay out all the faces I see in my one day award-winning film. 😉

        Something Strange & Deadly, the Movie

        Eleanor Fitt

        "I could keep quiet. But that didn't mean I would." (p. 89 in Something Strange & Deadly)

        Played by Rachel Hurd-Wood. When she has blond hair, of course. But seriously, I love the way this actress can look so feminine and yet so feisty. (Read more…)

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        Something Strange & Deadly Book Club Week 3

        Welcome to week 3 in the Something Strange & Deadly book club!

        If you missed the awesome discussions last week, be sure to check them all out here. I’ve got the full list of people who’ve shared their responses with me via the participation prize form and week 2 giveaway form.

        Now, to choose the winner of the second week’s prizes–a signed copy of Angelfire by Courtney Moulton, Angelfire swag, a signed copy of SS&D or ADS&L, and signed swag…

        Fran at Bella’s Shelf!

        Thank you to everyone who participated, and look below for THIS week’s prizes. 😉

        Oh, and–whether you participate in this book club or not–you’ll definitely want to stop by the Epic Reads discussion board! So far they’ve…

        For those of you just joining this, here’s how the book club works: I have the week’s discussion questions (one for book 1 and one for book 2) below. You have the rest of August to answer these, and you can answer them anywhere on the web (that’s publicly visible, of course).

        If you don’t want to answer this week’s discussion question, that’s fine! You can chime in next week (the final week). One discussion qualifies you for the participation prize. 🙂 What is the prize? A copy of the e-novella A Dawn Most Wicked or an exclusive cut scene from A Darkness Strange and Lovely.

        Of course, if you want to be eligible for this week’s AWESOME giveaway, you’ll want to be sure you answer this week’s discussion question somewhere on the web (publicly visible, of course) before Monday of next week (8/26), when I choose a winner! (Read more…)

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        SS&D Book Club, Week 2 Discussions!

        Happy Friday, world!! Thank you for another  FUN week in our book club discussion! Your answers are all so insightful–I’m honestly thoroughly impressed.

        If you’d still like to join in on the discussions, then that’s TOTALLY cool and I’d love to have you! Just be sure you sign up for it on this form. 🙂

        If you missed my playlist on Wednesday, be sure to check out the music I imagine with the Dynamite Factory scene–assuming your there in the book. If not, you can save the explanation of the playlist for later. 😉

        (Read more…)

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        Something Strange & Deadly, Dynamite Factory Playlist

        I know I’ve said before that Chapter 19 is my favorite in Something Strange & Deadly. It’s not that I don’t love all the other chapters, but I actually wrote chapter 19 first.

        Yep–it’s true! It was originally the opening scene in Something Strange & Deadly, and then the story jumped back to Eleanor waiting on her brother at the train station. OBVIOUSLY, that was a terrible way to open the book, and a wise critique partner quickly pointed out just how terrible.

        But the fact remains that once-upon-a-time, Chapter 19 came first. So it’s special to me.

        And because it’s special to me, I thought I’d share with YOU a playlist that goes along with the entire dynamite factory kerfuffle.

        First, I’ll share the actual playlist so you can listen (and possibly be inspired to write your own stuff…?), and then I’ll break down which piece I associate with which pages. Happy listening!

        (Read more…)

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