Monday, April 8, 2013

Weakness vs Need vs Desire

I always mean to work on my WIP when I travel for work, but after ten or twelve mind-numbing hours on my feet, I am able to read more than edit. My preferences are (natch) romances and books about writing.

I started reading The Anatomy of a Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller, by John Truby.  I read a lot of how-to books, and with each one I retain a little bit more. Maybe it's the repetition. Maybe it's 'hearing' a different way to explain important concepts.

I was also helping my daughter flesh out her new comedy sketch series main story premise and primary characters backstories. During a lull in sample serving, I read the section on character need versus desire.

A main character has one or two great weaknesses that are holding her back from happiness. Her need creates an inner need that she may or may not be fully conscious of.

eg. Silence of the Lambs: Clarice's WEAKNESSES are that she is inexperienced, suffering from haunting childhood memories, and a woman in a man's world (FBI).
                                         Clarice's NEED is to overcome the ghosts of her past and gain respect as a professional in a man's world.
                                         Clarice has an immediate DESIRE when the story opens: to find the kidnapped girl before she is killed.  Desire is what the hero wants in the story, her particular goal.

Desire is what drives a story. It is what hooks the reader.

NEED has to do with overcoming a weakness within the character. A hero with a need is always paralyzed in some way by his weakness. Need reveals how the hero must change to have a better life.

DESIRE is a goal outside the character. Desire drives the story. It is what hooks the reader. The character identifies a desire and moves toward it relentlessly during the story.

A good story presents quickly the hero's inner weakness and her main desire. The plot twists reveal her need and show how she struggles with her need to achieve her desire.

Basic building blocks of every story: Weakness. Need. Desire.


  1. I have to admit this kind of analysis makes me brain hurt! I don't set out to analyse my characters beforehand, but usually find that they reveal their strengths and weaknesses, and also their needs and desires, in the things they say and do.

  2. An intersting addition to the oft spoken of Goal Motivation and Conflict. Weakness, Need, and Desire could go hand-in-hand with that.

    And maybe this is why I'm not a bestseller. I don't tend to think all of this through beforehand. I have a general idea of GMC in my head when I start, but I don't think too deeply about it. It seems to come forth as the story progresses. And there indeed we find the weakness, need, and desire.

    Interesting post.

  3. Debra, I'm so glad I'm not the only one who doesn't think this out beforehand! As you say, it seems to happen anyway as you progress through the story.

  4. I think the analysis of stories is interesting and useful. I feel we watch and read so many good stories, we absorb the essence of story structure--and so it can unfold as we write.