Construction Zone: What Does My Character Want?

Last week’s revision lesson inadvertently led me to a serious breakthrough with Her Private Chef. The lesson was all about characters – what they want, what role they play, and whether or not they’re too predictable. Basically we were tasked with studying each character individually to make sure they were “earning their keep”.

I sort of combined this with information from the first lesson about what my character wants, and extrapolated it to the revised version of the plot that I’ve been developing (theoretically, we’re not supposed to *have* the revised version worked out yet – but my brain jumps ahead). Here’s what I came up with – two deep needs, and one superficial:

What Hannah Wants: 
– To protect her anonymity
– To find love
– To go to culinary school

So then I listed my other characters, and assigned them “roles” – ie, “Love Interest #1”, “Stalker”, “Savior”, etc. I used their current roles for this, and then asked myself, is this predictable? Several of them were, and while that’s not always bad, it was for at least three of my characters. Then I reassigned roles, in several cases assigning the role of “red herring” to characters who were a little too predictable, and then reassigning the “stalker” and “savior” roles. I asked what each character really wanted, and ended up cutting one character who just couldn’t be defined. I still have one who needs definition, but suddenly the revisions just came very sharply into place with my characters reassigned, and it all just fit together like a huge jigsaw puzzle. I’d been having a hard time seeing *how* to make the story work like I wanted it too, and this process brought that into focus. I wish I knew why…but I suspect it has something to do with really getting into the heads of my characters, and exploring them on a much deeper level. 

I should mention that through all of this, the main plot has not actually changed. There’s still a publically humiliating event that acts as the catalyst both for Hannah to be plunged into dealing with a stalker, and meeting the man she’ll fall in love with. I’ve added another subplot that makes the story richer, and also makes Hannah work harder for her happy ending, but works just perfectly within the original framework of the plot (so I only have to revise, doing partial scene rewrites rather than rewriting the whole book). I got the subplot from the assignment of a secondary character to “red-herring” status. He needed more of a reason not to be cut from the book, and I needed him to stay for the main plot.

Now I’m starting at the beginning, rewriting and revising scene by scene to mold the story to my updated version of the outline. The revision course isn’t doing any of this yet, I’m just impatient. I’ll incorporate further lessons to my revisions as they apply.

What does your main character want? Do all the characters in your story “deserve” to be there – do they pull thier own weight, even as minor characters?