General · Writing

The Anatomy of a Story: I want, therefore I am

Last week, I found a fantastic book on writing: The Anatomy of a Story by John Truby. It’s a keeper (much like King’s On Writing.) I think I first heard about it from an author chat on twitter. It has some of the best analysis of what a story is that I’ve ever read. And I’ve read a lot of books on writing.

The first lines that jump out at me are:

The “story world” doesn’t boil down to “I think, therefore I am” but rather “I want, therefore I am.” Desire in all of its facets is what makes the world go around. It is what propels all conscious, living things and gives them direction. A story tracks what a person wants, what he’ll do to get it and what costs he’ll have to pay along the way.

I’m always ecstatic when a character comes to life in my head. Writing is easy and it feels like I am not writing, just describing the pictures in my head.

I am theorizing that happens because I connect with the character’s desire. In the moment it is real to me, that feeling will come a lot easier.

It makes sense. I mean, a lot of stories are about what character is trying to do, isn’t? Whether that’s to solve a murder or find someone to share their life with. Or, in the case of my MC, find the drug source and keep all hisloved ones safe at the same time.

I am thinking, I need to know my character’s desires, both short-term and long-term. His professional goals (easy! ha! this is the whole story), and a more personal, more emotional desire. To an extent, this is the same (backstory! such bloody, fantastic drama!).

I am not sure if I need other layers. Emotional and/or spiritual desires? I am thinking not. He thinks doesn’t think a love life is possible for him anymore and he’s not really open to it. Family? Hmm. Maybe.

Thing is, I knew almost none of this when I first started writing the novel in progress. I had to backtrack, go forward and back a few times before I figured it out.

How many others know the all the different desires of the character before they start writing?

5 thoughts on “The Anatomy of a Story: I want, therefore I am

  1. I don’t usually know all of my characters’ desires or really everything about my characters but things tend to pop up randomly.

  2. My novel started with the main character desperately wanting to do something and it grew from there. The more I thought about what he wanted, the more his personality came into focus – the BIG thing created all the little things that made him special. Things I thought I knew about him changed as the story progressed, but doesn’t that happen with real people in real life? I always took it as a good sign when he surprised me, because that meant he was more realistic. Throughout the process, I found that having such a strong sense of who he was as a person, helped to keep me focused as I wrote his story. 🙂

    1. It is, yeah. I’ve had that happen to my characters, too. LOL I tel l myself it’s a good thing, that he’s more real, even if it frustrates me. 😉

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