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.
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?