Sunday, April 12, 2015

Problems with the Premise 4: Needs and wants.

I thought I'd conclude this last time, but my efforts met with Calamity. Just as with fiction, articles can take unexpected turns if you let them. Nonetheless, your life is made easier if you have a strong premise to begin with. It's a bit like knowing the rules before you break them. No matter how far you might stray, you know you can return to solid ground. And that can help you go confidently into the unknown.

As a reminder, the formulation for a premise is this:

To achieve an important Goal, the Protagonist must Act and overcome Obstacles, or Calamity will occur and she/he will not get what she/he Wants and/or Needs.

This time, we'll look at the protagonist's needs and wants. A good place to explore wants and needs is Maslow's hierarchy.

This is a good place to start, though I have problems with some wants like curiosity and the desire to feel complete.

Also, for practical reasons, many of these need to be reversed:

Food --> Hunger
Water --> Thirst
Security -->Anxiety
Friendship --> Loneliness
Esteem --> Humiliation

And, honestly, I don't know what you'd put that was useful for the inverse of Self-Actualization (or if it would work in fiction). Dissatisfaction? 

My reversed list is not complete, but, if you think of stories where people are trying to dodge killers, escape poverty, avenge a wrong, recover from a divorce, break out of prison, etc., you can see how building a backwards view might be valuable and you come up with wants and needs.   

The Wants in your story should be evident. Usually the Goal is what the protagonist wants and he/she attempting to attain it provides the engine for the story. That goal is visible. Achieving it should be something you could take a picture of, according to Michael Hauge.

But it is good to explore Wants more deeply. The hero or heroine will want an external goal for an acknowledged reason that is internal. They have their own version of why they are doing something, and that is important to understanding the motivation even if it is wrong. They may even state why they are obsessed (and all story goals are obsessions) with achieving their goals. The stated reason may have be real, provide a whiff of the real reason, or be the exact opposite of the reason the main character is pursuing the Goal, but it is unlikely to be unrelated. The only major exception I've seen has been what the reason is parroted. Always be suspicious of a reason that is in almost the same words as someone else who has sway over or control of the main character.

Needs are, of course, what the character needs deep down to grow, develop, and evolve. They are often hidden from the character or only given lip service. In a sense, they are the reason the writer writes the story. For commercial fiction, they do not need to be in a premise presented to others, but they should be articulated in a premise used to build a story. Life is easier if you know the character's Needs early, but it can be fun to discover them in the writing. 

I often cannot clearly articulate the Needs before a draft is done. In one case, the true Needs did not emerge until the third draft, and they ended up changing the ending to something that was much more powerful. So, even with an action story that does not demand much in the way of an internal life for your character, it is often valuable to make the effort to articulate Needs. Once you have them, they can raise the level of your story.

Upcoming classes

April 15-April 29 Story Bootcamp (face-to-face) Westchester Community College
May 1-May 29 Bigger Stories (online) 

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