What does he want?

I was speaking with J.W. Manus about my WIP and she asked me this question regarding my main character–

“What does he want?”

I gave her an answer, but she asked,

“What does he really want?”

I gave her another answer and she asked,

“But what does he really really want?”

And then she had to leave our chat to take care of her mini-minion.

But she left me with that hanging question, kind of like a hanging glacier or a dangling participle. It nagged at me.

What does he want?

Last night as I worked on the book I realized there is no single answer to the question. What my protagonist wants changes as the situation changes. He finds himself stuck in circumstances beyond his control. When others change the rules of the game, so to speak, what he wants changes accordingly.

It’s like football. I’m a big fan of the Read-Option. Colin Kaepernik of the San Francisco 49ers and Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks (Superbowl champs) play the Read-Option. R.G. III of the Washington Redskins ain’t so bad either.

So the question becomes– What does the quarterback want? To avoid the sack. To connect with his receiver. To hand off successfully. To run the ball. To beat the defense. Using every option available to him, knowing some really big nasty adrenaline-fueled guys are on the line of scrimmage waiting for an opportunity to crush him. So I guess the answer is what the quarterback wants is to slip out of their grasp, remain elusive. He wants to keep them guessing, but he knows they might crush him anyway.

Colin Kaepernik

Colin Kaepernik

But in the end he wants to win.

I have a general outline. I know where this story is going, how it will end. But the middle is interesting. My characters are making adjustments after every single play. My protagonist and his sidekick, for lack of a better word, must play the Read-Option if they are to have any chance of beating the bigger guys on the other side of the line. If they want to survive, what they want will change from day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute.

If I ever realize one single answer to Jaye’s question, I’ll let you know.




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9 Responses to What does he want?

  1. Roberta says:

    To be, or not to be?
    To want, or not to want?
    To love, or not to love?
    To give up, or not to give up?
    What does he want?
    Life is full of questions.
    I am still not certain what the answers to life are.
    So I have just decided to simply enjoy each day no matter what it brings.

  2. Good for you, Roberta. But that still doesn’t answer the question… What does my protagonist want? ;)

  3. Amber Skyze says:

    Keep writing…it will come to you. :)

  4. You got it: he wants to win.

    All those other things are subgoals, steps to his goal, preconditions – and he could achieve all or some of them – but if he lost the game, he would have missed his goal.

    Few football players want to say, at the end of a game they lost, “I accomplished this and this and this.” They may not win – and they may still feel good about playing well, but if they lose due to accomplishing a subgoal, they are going to feel generally dumb. And unhappy. The time to achieve the subgoals is in practice.

    You may not want to say that’s his goal – it’s so obvious – but if you turn it around, and he wouldn’t be happy if he DIDN’T win, whatever else he accomplished, the winning is the true goal.

    My heroine’s goal is for this amazing guy she’s met to be happy. Not herself, though that would make it gravy.

    It’s not the reader’s goal – that’s the fun part. But it is hers.

  5. Alicia – when you boil it down to brass tacks, the truth is this — he wants to live.

  6. It’s important to know what each of your main characters really wants, and sometimes the “want” is multi-layered and complex. For those same characters, sometimes it helps to start with what they do NOT want.
    Characters, like real people we know–and ourselves–are sometimes more strongly motivated to avoid what they fear and dread than they are motivated to work and reach for what they want and desire.
    Remember what Ray Bradbury said about remembering pain longer and stronger than remembering pleasure. He was right. Know your character’s deepest pain and dread, and you’ll better understand his deepest desire and want.

  7. Yes, Marylin. This. I was just discussing the character with my husband and he said I should go easier on him, but I can’t. The story takes him right to the brink before he pulls back.

  8. anny cook says:

    What if what he wants is an absolute impossibility?

  9. That is a very good question, Anny. I think I’m going in the right direction.