Friday, January 9, 2015

The Heart of the Matter: Discovering Your Character’s True Desire

The Heart of the Matter: Discovering Your Character’s True Desire
with Guest Katie Ganshert

I’m very pro craft book. I’ve read all the popular ones, and even some of the lesser known ones. My favorites are teeming in highlights and earmarks (sorry if makes anyone cringe). But sometimes, the best writing tips don’t come from craft books at all. Sometimes, the best writing tips come from unexpected sources. This is what happened to me while reading a book called Live a Praying Life, by Jennifer Kennedy Dean. Have you heard of it?

I wasn’t reading the book to improve my writing. I was reading the book to better understand God’s design for prayer. But as writers, we usually have that third eye (or ear) open and observant and aware. Ready to soak up some juicy insight. Some truth, some epiphany, some reflection of the human condition that will help us breath greater life into our characters and our stories.

So when I came upon something Jennifer wrote, I immediately switched to writing mode:

“Usually, what we call ‘the desire of my heart’ is really a secondary desire orbiting around the true desire. Usually, what we think we desire is really the way we have imagined the true desire will be met.”

She goes on to say, “We think we are asking for the desire of our hearts, but we are really asking for the desire of the moment. Often, in order to give you the desire of your heart, God will withhold the desire of the moment. He only says no as a prelude to a higher yes.”

Wow. I don’t know about you, but I see major truth in these words. 

Truth that points to an overarching human condition. 

So how do we apply that truth to our characters?

Simple. We pick up our metaphorical shovels and we do a little digging.

On the Surface: What does your character want?

Every protagonist needs a goal, something for which they are striving. They can’t be standing around, twiddling their thumbs. A boring story, that would make. What is your protagonist trying to accomplish throughout the story? 

Or how about this. Let’s say your character gets on her knees in the morning, clasps her hands together, and begs you–her creator–for something. What is she petitioning for? 

Often times, this petition is what Jennifer calls the desire of the moment. And this desire of the moment is what becomes our story, our plot. These tend to be external things. Like…

·      Please, give me this promotion.
·      Please, make this guy fall in love with me.
·      Please, let me get this scholarship. 

The possibilities are endless.

Digging Deeper: Why does your character want this?

Here’s where it gets interesting. Because we know—or should know—something that our character doesn’t. 

This thing she is “praying” for? It’s not really the desire of her heart. It reflects a deeper desire. One she’s most likely unaware of.

So pick up that shovel and go deeper. 

Why does your character want this promotion? Why does your character want the guy to fall in love with her? Why does your character want the scholarship?

In the very depth of her soul, what does your character really want? What is she craving?

The promotion will mean she’s not a failure. She will finally make her parents proud. The promotion becomes a matter of approval

Getting the guy to love her will mean she’s desirable. It will mean she’s wanted. Getting the guy to love her becomes a matter of value.

Getting the scholarship means paying her own way for college. She won’t have to answer to her parents anymore. Getting the scholarship becomes a matter of freedom.

Usually, these heart desires can be summed up in one or two words and they tend to be universal. 

Something most of us crave in one form or another.  

Now think….

How can we, as authors, withhold the desire of the moment? How can we tell our characters no? And while they keep striving, how can we make our characters see something deeper? Something beyond the temporary? And how can we meet this true desire in a way that is exceedingly better than what our character (and readers) imagined?


Award-winning author, Katie Ganshert is a slightly-frazzled, ever-inquisitive Midwest gal who loves Jesus, grace, her family, and adoption. When she’s not busy writing or playing or reading or consuming chocolate, she is dreaming about the day when her Congolese daughter finally gets to come home. You can learn more about Katie and her romantic tales by visiting her website or author Facebook page.

A Broken Kind of Beautiful: A Novel 

Sometimes everything you ever learned about yourself is wrong

Fashion is a fickle industry, a frightening fact for twenty-four year old model Ivy Clark. Ten years in and she’s learned a sacred truth—appearance is everything. Nobody cares about her broken past as long as she looks beautiful for the camera. This is the only life Ivy knows—so when it starts to unravel, she’ll do anything to hold on. Even if that means moving to the quaint island town of Greenbrier, South Carolina, to be the new face of her stepmother’s bridal wear line—an irony too rich for words, since Ivy is far from the pure bride in white. 
If only her tenuous future didn’t rest in the hands of Davis Knight, her mysterious new photographer. Not only did he walk away from the kind of success Ivy longs for to work maintenance at a local church, he treats her differently than any man ever has. Somehow, Davis sees through the façade she works so hard to maintain. He, along with a cast of other characters, challenges everything Ivy has come to believe about beauty and worth. Is it possible that God sees her—a woman stained and broken by the world—yet wants her still?


  1. Ooooo, Katie your novel sounds absolutely fabulous! And the post? Yep..I guess I read novels to find a purpose. I write reviews to get more novels! Thanks!

  2. Such a thought-provoking post! And I'm still up and hopefully awake enough to make sense here.

    In my last book, my heroine definitely wanted the guy she was with to love her, but what she really wanted was to find true love. She's just mistaken who she'll find that true love with.

    In my current WIP, my heroine wants her husband to become a Christian--not for himself necessarily but for her so that they'll have a nice, wonderful, easy marriage. I hadn't thought this one before this post, but I now find it ironic that what she thinks she wants and what seems to be a good thing on the surface is really a selfish request. It'll be interesting to see how that evolves as the story goes. (I'm terrified of first drafts, can you tell?)

  3. Great insight, Katie! I love the idea of always digging deeper! There was a saying once, "an unexamined life isn't worth living." That's probably true for characters :) I'm glad God put you and that darling little girl in each others lives! God bless!

  4. Thank you for the great post Katie.

    I LOVED A Broken Kind of Beautiful and I look forward to your next book out.

    Smiles & Blessings,
    Cindy W.

  5. Katie, good morning and welcome to Seekerville! I've set up the coffee, we've got Einstein Bros. Bagels bringing breakfast in, and I loved reading the mini-synop of that story.


    The tea service is set up alongside the coffee. Happy Friday, everyone!

  6. Katie! So great to see you here :)

    Cindy - you are in for a big treat when Katie's next book comes out. I was privileged to have an early read and it is AMAZING!

    I'm in the process of trying to work out what my new heroine really really desires so this is perfect timing. Thanks :)

  7. Welcome, Katie! I'm off to get coffee and will be right back...

  8. Marianne, you were first here this morning! I'm glad Ruthy got here earlier enough to set out breakfast. :)

  9. Welcome Katie! This is a great post that really has me thinking.
    I've read and loved each of your books. Your voice is beautiful. Thanks for visiting Seekerville.

  10. Katie,
    This is the most important thing in fiction. If they don't want and need something, who cares? As inspirational writers we need to add a whole other level, that of where they're at with God, which puts everything on a whole other plane. If we're lucky, we learn something about ourselves along the way.
    In my current WIP, Wagonmaster Pace Williams wants to get off the Oregon Trail and stop running from his old enemies. Envying his best friend's happiness, he wants to leave the trail and settle down. But the woman he falls in love with has other ideas. Oona Moriarty wants to avenge her family, which was splinbtered and scattered due to their English landlord. Falling in love with Pace wasn't part of the plan.
    Spiritually, Pace has had no use for God since he ran away from the orphanage at 11 after witnessing a brutal murder. Oona believes in God but harbors a deep resentment toward Him after what happened to her family. Both damaged, wary people who must find Him before they have any chance together. Anyway, you get the drift, and I'm having fun with it.
    Kathy Bailey
    Snowed in in NH

  11. RUTHY, thank you for the bagels. A nice touch on a snowy morning.

  12. Hi Katie and welcome to Seekerville. Wow your words were just in time for me. I was just trying to figure the goals for my new wip and this just helped me along. Thanks.

    Have fun today.

  13. Katie, great advice. I will be printing this off and adding to my saved blog writings' collection. I'm going to return to my heroine and have a deep heart-to-heart conversation with her. Thank you!

  14. wow... just wow.

    great food for thought for me as well as my characters. methinks I must get to know them MUCH better.

    somehow this post put that in a new light that smacked me upside the head with its brilliance.

    thanks for sharing with Seekerville, and, as an adoptee - hooray for desiring to bring that girl into your heart and home. awesome!

  15. Katie, I just LOVE this post. I haven't read the book you mentioned but it makes so much sense how you related it to characters!

    I love the idea of digging deeper to their root need. Now, I need to head over to my wip and make sure I'm going deep enough.

  16. Sally, that's an interesting observation. I think in real life, our desires are often selfish as well. So you'll be working with a very real character people can relate to! :)

  17. Eva Maria, that's a good quote. Too often we go through our day to day grind without even thinking about anything else.

  18. Hi, Cindy! I'm glad to hear you've read her new book and loved it! I look forward to reading it.

  19. Thanks for the coffee and breakfast, Ruthy! I'm still sipping my coffee with Italian Sweet Cream creamer. :)

  20. Kara, you've got us excited to find out more about Katie's next book!

  21. Katie, what an amazing post! The whole idea of differentiating the desire of the moment and the true desire of the heart? I hadn't thought about that before. I'm so glad you shared this. As I'm preparing for re-writes, this is helpful for me.

    What beautiful insights you've shared here!

    I have heard so much good about A Broken Kind of Beautiful. I look forward to reading it!

  22. Good morning, Jill!

    Kathy B, it sounds like you have a good handle on your story!

  23. Hey everyone! It's such a pleasure to be here today, hanging out with the seeker ladies and their fab readers. :)

    Thanks for the warm welcome and the encouraging words. So glad this post is helpful!

    Ruth - Einstein Bagels!! Blast from the past! I went to college in Madison and they had an Einsteins. Ate there lots. No Einstein Bagels in Iowa, though!

    Cindy W - I'm so glad you loved A Broken Kind of Beautiful! That makes my heart smile.

    Kara - girl, you are SUCH an encouragement to me with this book coming out! If you even knew the self-doubt I went through while writing it, then you would know how much your words mean. :)

    Jill - THANK YOU for the encouragement, sister!

    DebH - <3 <3 <3 <3 I always LOVE meeting adoptees.

  24. Katie, what a great post. I'm creating characters for a new story now, and this helps me work on their desires.

    I've read some of Jennifer's books, and she's amazing.

    Your new book sounds wonderful.

    Thanks for sharing today!

  25. I love this post, Katie. And I also loved "A Broken Kind of Beautiful"...I had the privilege of reading it this past year. Thanks for being with us today!

  26. Oh My Gosh, the cover of your novel is amazing! So is your post today. Putting us, the author, as the receiver of prayer from our characters is an exciting idea for their development. Digging deeper into motivation is a compelling idea that I will be using.

  27. "Because we know--or should know--something our characters don't." So true. My heroine thinks all men are egotistical and controlling. In a world when a woman's highest goal is marriage, she'd rather carve out a career. So she's off--to be disappointed. What she doesn't know is a man is waiting for her who'll change her mind and teach her something about prejudice at the same time.

    Thanks for the post, Katie. Your book cover is amazing. The first romance I ever read was about a fashion designer.

  28. Thanks for being one, Katie. I love the way you laid this out.

  29. Sandra and Kelly, how fun that this post hit right as you needed it. :)

  30. DebH, good morning! Yes, it's a wonderful post. And a great reminder as I'm working on some characters right now.

  31. Hey, Jeanne! Good luck with the rewrites. Enjoy digging into it. :)

  32. Jackie, I'm glad this was good timing for you!

  33. Jennifer, good morning!

    Eileen, I thought that was a really cool way of looking at it as well. :)

  34. Elaine, it is a beautiful cover, isn't it? I love all Katie's covers! Waterbrook did a great job.

  35. Oh, and I also love the Zondervan novella cover!

  36. Hi Kate,
    Just as you found a writing truth where you weren't looking, I reversed that back and found a prayer truth for myself.

    "This thing she is 'praying' for? It is not really the desire of her heart. It reflects a deeper desire. One she's most likely unaware of."

    Thank you for making me take a closer look at the deeper desires hidden in my prayers.

    I'm adding my prayers to yours for your daughter from the Congo to come home soon!

    A Broken Kind of Beautiful looks like an interesting read. I'm adding it to my TBR list.

  37. Oops, accidently drop the i in Katie, sorry, my keys stick sometimes, time for a new keyboard I think.

  38. Wow, great insights, Katie! As I read, my mind immediately went to the heroine in my wip. I'm still trying to wade through all the surface issues to get a handle on her truest, deepest desire.

    And telling our characters no to their surface goals? That's the perfect way to ensure lots of conflict!

  39. Welcome to Seekerville, Katie. Excellent thought provoking post! Thanks! How fun is it to be the creator of story people. And as you say, withhold their desires of the moment for their greater good. This is a different way of looking at what we authors do and I find it helpful. Thanks!

    Your novel sounds fabulous! Gorgeous cover too. Off to Amazon.


  40. Good morning, Katie! I've wondered this many times in my own prayer life. What is it that I really and truly am seeking? I just never thought it so eloquently or applied it to my characters. Thank you!

  41. Tracey, that's such a good takeaway! I'm going to be looking at that as well.

  42. Myra, you're right! It's a great way to look at conflict (which is a big weakness of mine).

  43. Good morning, Janet!

    Meghan, I think it's great for us to reflect that way. I know I need to.

  44. So question for all of you…

    What do you think is your favorite deep (even selfish) motivation for a character you've written?

  45. Katie, welcome....have not read any of your books...yet...but this sounds like MY kind of book!
    I'll be adding it to my TBR list.
    Best wishes in your future writing!

  46. KATIE!!! Soooo good to have you here, my friend, and LOVE the post today -- very thought-provoking!!

    I especially love the line, "He only says no as a prelude to a higher yes.”

    WOW, sooooo true and soooo eye-opening, giving a glimpse into a God Who only has our best interests at heart.

    And LOVE how YOU dig down deep into your characters, Katie, to reveal a hidden bit of each of us in your powerful stories.

    Okay, I'm inspired ... must go dig some more ... ;)


  47. Welcome Katie!
    Your post is very timely for me, because just this morning I was thinking about my heroine in my WIP and realizing I need to dig deeper into her life. (specifically, wondering WHY she feels the strong need to have a child of her very own).
    This is definitely a KEEPER POST! :) Thank you for taking time to share with us, and please enjoy the just-baked peach cobbler I took out of the oven. ;) Blessings from Georgia, Patti Jo

  48. Katie,

    Loved reading the blurb for your story. You hooked me big time! It's a must read, for sure!

    Also loved your reflections on digging deeper to the real motivation and need. That internal--deep internal--conflict is so important.

    Thanks for a wonderful lesson that applies to our writing and to our lives.

    Praying for your little one...the child of your heart.

  49. This is a good post. It has me thinking about my characters. I think I'm learning something. That's good, right?

    My heroine's desire of the moment is for her husband to come home from a ten year prison sentence. But he dies of pneumonia on the way. This effectively thwarts her desire. Her true desire is companionship. She wants not to be alone anymore. On some level she knows she's never alone, but she'll realize that she's never really handed the burden over to God.

    My hero is a little more difficult to nail down. I need to do some more thinking on that.

  50. Katie!!! What a thrill to see you in Seekerville!

    Your post is awesome! I've been pushing myself harder as a writer to discover the depths of my characters: not just what they want, but what they really need. Unearthing those hidden nuggets and making the most of them enriches a story. I know you understand this. That's what makes your stories so rich and rewarding. You work the emotions of both your characters and your readers. I love it when authors make me feel deeply, and you do. I can't read one of your stories without laughing at times, sighing at others and reaching for the tissue box at time or two or three...

  51. Julie, I've been inspired to dig deeper, too. I've been jotting notes all morning on my wip! :)

  52. Patti Jo, I always love your peach cobblers! Especially right now as we're having this unusual freezing cold weather! I hope you're doing okay down there on the south end of the Atlanta. We're staying in out of the cold up here on the north end.

  53. Good morning, Debby!

    Andrea, the heroes are always a little harder for me. Well, actually, not always. Sometimes the guy is easier and the heroine is tougher. I think maybe it depends on which character I most closely relate to. In some stories, that's actually the hero.

    I wonder if it depends on which character is more like me??

  54. Keli, I love those books that make me do all of those!

    Okay, y'all here on Eastern time. What's for lunch??

  55. welcome, Katie!!! Gorgeous book cover. What kind of bagels are in Iowa???

  56. This post is so spot on! Great reminder. You have to dig deep to find that emotional buried treasure! Thank you!

  57. That makes total sense! Now I need to go dig some holes in my story!

  58. Tina, that's a good question! I'm curious, too. :)

    Becky, enjoy the digging!

  59. Ooh, excellent post! I'm definitely bookmarking this one for later use.

    Thanks for visiting us today, Katie... I'm a huge fan of your books!

  60. Katie, this is good stuff. Very thought-provoking. How many times do we pray for God to heal a child from the flu or cancer even, or to provide money for an upcoming bill, or for it to rain ... or to stop raining...

    You are SO right! Those are desires of the moment, when the long-term desire is a bit broader (ie. a healthy child) but no less concrete.

    This is a wonderful way of looking at how we write our characters.

    Thank you! :)

  61. This is a great post, Katie. Really great ways to think about characters. Nice to see you here today. I read you in the Daily Guideposts.

  62. Oh my WORD! You are all so much fun and so encouraging! Love reading all the comments and thoughts. Thank you so much for the kind words about the cover and blurb and story of A Broken Kind of Beautiful. I know we're not supposed to pick favorites, but I think this is my favorite amongst all my book babies. And thank you especially for all the prayers for our daughter. We covet them.

    Tracy, no worries about the missing I! My husband calls me Kate, and hence, his entire family calls me Kate. I go by either.

    Tina, we have Panera and Brueggers. I miss Einsteins!

    Sandy, how fun that you're a reader of the Guideposts devos! It's such a pleasure writing for them!

  63. Hey, Anna, Pam and Sandy!

    Sandy, I'll have to check out the latest Guideposts.

  64. Speaking of Kate vs Katie…

    Y'all should check out this cute story on Katie's website where she tells about meeting her husband. :)

  65. Hi Katie!
    Wonderful post! It made me jump up and write some deeper issues for one of my heroines. Will have to apply to all the other characters, too!

    "A Broken Kind of Beautiful" was a wonderful book and I can't wait for your next story,

    I love how deeply you delve into issues! Makes me want to be a better writer.

  66. There are no bagels left?????


    Major league hunger here in snowy, cold upstate!

    BUT.... I love the way Katie laid out the schematic for going deeper. I often have to get well into the story before I can visualize the reflective thread or see how to take a character into a new place to make the story shine from within. But it's so worth it, even if it means a serious re-write because our words should always be the best possible message we can send!

  67. Sue, I love authors' work that inspires me to write better!

  68. Ruthy, I saved you a bagel--honey wheat and some hazelnut cream cheese. :)


  69. What a wonderful post, Katie!!!


    My mind is blown by this perfect way you have presented this. And it's exactly what I needed! Now I really want to read your books! They must be wonderful!

    (No, I don't always use this many exclamation points!) ;-)

  70. Seriously, this is just the reminder I needed to shore up my characters' goals, motivations, and conflict in the book I'm working on. I wish I could remember this stuff all the time! But . . . I'm not a robot.

    As Blogger has so kindly reminded me.

    Thank you, Blogger.

  71. Dear Katie,
    Thanks for the nice post. The 12-year-old girl in my books wants to be close to her mother again, the way she was before a horrible accident stole their version of a "normal" life away. I can definitely relate to this desire as can anyone who's survived a rough season of life. Some of how she handles it is like how I did with several emergencies we've been though but some was much more like a tween and different. So I found myself learning from my characters, too.

    I loved learning how to listen and talk to them heart-to-heart from other authors like Angela Hunt, Nancy Rue, Sandra Byrd, and Robin Jones Gunn and many writer's books, like Jeff Gerke. When you understand their desires, it's so much easier to let them "drive the car" where it's supposed to go in the scene. Thanks for the great reminder here. Bless you in your work!

  72. Hi Katie, just home from the day job - you know the one where you get to spend all day with kids. ;)

    Great post and great reminder.
    I agree with Ruthy that often it takes until I'm deep into the story to actually see what the message is meant to be. Love the revision/refining process.

    In my prayer life, I'm learning to just leave it in God's hands and pray for whatever it is I need because He knows better than I do.

  73. I am so glad to have that bagel, Missy!!!! I'm starving! No supper here as yet, and I skipped lunch (I subbed in two cookies!!!!) because I was working on cowboys. This bagel rocks, my friend!

  74. Missy, I agree. When I read something that makes me want to throw stones at my own work, it pushes me to be tighter, stronger, more thoughtful. And not because I want to compete with that person, but because their writing showed me a different way/attitude/idea to run with.

    So it's not a "besting" approach but a learning one.

    Of course, we all EXPECT ME to be that nice about things, right???? :)

  75. A Broken Kind of Beautiful sounds like an awesome book. I love how God weaves our lives as a beautiful tapestry. PLEASE, No peeking at the back.

    Ladies have a WONDERFUL weekend.

  76. At Missy's suggestion I read Katie's story about how she met her husband. Now calling her Kate makes me smile as that's what her husband calls her. Such a cute story!

  77. I'm sorry to have disappeared this evening! I've been a little under the weather.

    Melanie, LOL on the robot thing. But you're right. I love reminders about stuff because I sometimes go on autopilot and forget the details.

  78. Missy - thanks for posting the link. As a romance writer, I DO love our meet story. :)

    Tracey - I'm so glad you read it, too!

    Susan - what a high compliment! Thank you!

    Melanie - your comment about not being a robot totally made me literally LOL.

  79. Elizabeth, I need to check out Jeff's book. Thanks for that reminder!

  80. Ruthy, you're right about the learning approach. That's exactly what it is.

  81. Caryl, I hope you have a great weekend, too!

  82. Mary Curry, that's a lesson I have to learn continually. And I'm sure that won't change much. But thank goodness I'm not in charge. :)

  83. Tracey, wasn't that cute? See, you were on the inside track! :)

  84. By the way, for those of you with terribly cold weather (probably most of us right now), I shared a yummy soup recipe at the Cafe today…

  85. How beautifully insightful. And true! I love your characters! The ones I've read are always relate-able and usually pull some emotion from me I didn't expect to find.

    Thanks for sharing, Katie!

  86. Hi, Natalie. I love your comment about pulling emotion out of you that you don't expect. Very interesting! But I get what you mean.

  87. Katie,
    Fantastic post! I love digging deeper!

    Having just come from a conference for models (believe me - I was NOT one of the models!) your book sounds great and I'd love to read it!