D as in Desire

What is desire and why is it so important?

You probably listened to a song called Freed from desire. The idea is obviously not that new, as desire seems to enslave us. We need to know how to control that desire and, as writers, how to fully understand it. We have mentioned before 4 Ds, let’s start with the first one, desire.

In Stanislavsky’s philosophy, desire is a super objective; obstacles and conflicts are vital for a story to develop. What you must ask yourself now is: how can I create impediments to my characters if I don’t know them yet and how could I think of knowing someone if not starting from his personal goals?

Desire, definition.

So, let’s try to find your characters’ desires. First, associate it with an action verb since this is what a story is about: action. An example to avoid is to imagine a desire like this:

“A man wants to be a better person.”

Maybe our character Alan told us he wanted to be a better man when we interviewed him; this isn’t a desire we can use in a story if we want it to develop. His desire has to be specific and better if it is double, as in:

“Alan wants his family to trust his choices.”

The character would think in this way:

“I lied to my family all my life. It’s time for me to stop using drugs and let them trust me again.”

In short, it’s an action plan followed by the primary goal of the character. Creating a double and specific desire, we could later decide to “attack” our character from two sides.

Alan wants to be trusted by his family, but his nature is against it. So, trying to adjust his life, he’s probably going to replicate the same pattern repeatedly. When finally, Alan seems to have found a balance, it’s maybe too late and his family doesn’t want to speak to him anymore. How would he react to this change of events? Now that Alan is alone in the world, would he return to his bad habits, or would he change completely no matter what? What does it mean to trust him now that he is alone from his family’s point of view? How would his family react to his changes?

The more specific the desire, the less “egocentric” it would be from the reader’s perspective. A story based on “He did this, then he did that” is quite boring, to say the least. What makes a nice story is a desire that goes in two ways; Alan depends on his family as much as they rely on him. This creates several possibilities for the writer, for you and me, to discover new plots. Remember that the desire has to follow your character’s attributes. Imagine if Alan thought about his desire in this way:

“I lied to my family all my life. It’s time for me to find a way to cover the fact that I use drugs, so they will trust me again.”

See how twisted the story is now? Alan doesn’t want to be a better person but just a better liar.

Now ask yourself: what would happen if my character failed to achieve his goal? What are the consequences for him and for the rest of the characters involved? It’s better if the reader always knows what it’s at stake and what the risks are for the main character. Without risks, there’s no reader, as simple as that.

Sometimes a character can have a desire on the surface, manifest to everyone, plus another one that only the reader knows or think to know. It’s you, the writer that has to work with these two levels, making the reader curious about how it is going to end. The desire has to be clear if you want the readers to be really engaged, asking themselves, “how is it going to end for him? Is Alan going to lie successfully to his family, or he’s going to be discovered? Will they trust him again? In any case, achieving or not the primary goal has to leave a closure for the reader, an answer to all the questions raised.

So, this was the first D, next time, we’ll inspect our second D, for Distance.

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