One of the most important things you will do for any story you write is make your character needy. No, I’m not saying your character should be poor. And they don’t have to be clingy or insecure and requiring attention 24-7. I mean your character has to have a need. Or a purpose or a goal.
Make sure your reader knows what your character needs. Harry needs to stop Voldemort. Katniss needs to protect her sister. Juliet needs Romeo. For every story, you start with a character and a need.
Having your character wake up, get ready for the day, eat breakfast, go to school, get bored in class, eat lunch, etc. is going to get really boring really fast. If we don’t know what your character wants, there is nothing there to motivate her. There’s no reason for her to do anything.
Even if you throw in a plane crash or a devastating natural disaster, or pull your character along in an epic adventure, your reader is not going to care if they don’t know what is important to your character. But if your character needs to make amends with her father before he dies, a crash or storm stopping her from getting to him in time makes those events matter—because we know her need, which gives her motivation to go through the events.
It’s good for your character to have both an abstract need and a concrete need. Perhaps your character wants to feel loved, or wants to survive. Those are great abstract needs (which will motivate her) but they are hard to show on the page, which is where the concrete need comes in. For example, to reflect a need to survive, a concrete goal could be that your character needs to find a bag of rice in the abandoned Walmart to feed her younger siblings. That is easy to show.
So now your character has a clear goal(s). Next step is to make your reader support that goal. The easiest way to do that is to make that goal a noble one. You’re more likely to follow a character who wants to save the orphans, not destroy them all. Also just a note here that those goals can change, and the goal your character starts out with at the beginning doesn’t have to be the main goal of the story. But within every scene or chapter, there should be something your character is working towards.
Your character has a need that motivates her actions, both abstract and concrete, and it’s noble. The rest of the story is easy…just make sure she doesn’t get it. Throughout the course of the story, it should become more and more difficult to obtain, seemingly impossible, until the end when she either gets it, or realizes she doesn’t need it anymore. These obstacles that you place in your character’s way are what drive your story. You’ve probably heard the line about how you should chase your character up a tree and throw rocks at him. Go ahead and throw everything you’ve got at him, and you’ll have a fantastic story.
Ilima Todd was born and raised on the north shore of Oahu and currently resides in the Rocky Mountains. She never wanted to be a writer even though she loves books and reading. She earned a degree in physics instead. But the characters in her head refused to be ignored, and now she spends her time writing science fiction for teens. Ilima is the author of the REMAKE series (Simon Pulse/Shadow Mountain) and is represented by Lane Heymont of The Seymour Agency. When she is not writing, Ilima loves to spend time with her husband and four children.