Editing Challenge Day 17: Give Us Your Character’s Dreams

This is a new part of my 30-Day Editing Challenge. Start at the beginning or find other days here.

Yesterday we talked about giving your character little details that make him or her seem real. But I often see student or professional stories that give us a believable person and milieu, and yet don’t think bigger. We want to read a story that has movement and direction, and we’ve discussed doing that in plot, but it’s also a journey that must be taken in character.

So today in your editing journal, take a few notes down about your character’s dreams and aspirations. What are his most potent desires? What does he imagine happening in a perfect world? And what would he do if only he were brave or talented or wise enough to get it done? I was thinking about this recently after setting a story at an artist’s colony and having my character meet various wacky characters. That was all well and good, I thought, but why was he really there? What was he hoping to accomplish? Was he there to finish the novel and make it big, or just as a curious observer, reporting on the funny people around him? What the heck did he want, anyway?

I think we have to have a strong sense of what a character wants if we are going to let the story’s plot points flow in a natural and believable way. Short stories often go off the deep end by having character go to stranger and stranger places and do stranger and stranger things — but I find those kinds of stories tedious unless I full understand why the character is really doing those things.

It’s back to basics today, folks. Why is your character there? What does he or she really want?

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