Please prepare for some major writerly musings . . .
As an author, I’ve received the feedback “I’m not sure this character knows what they want”, one or two times. I’ve also given that same feedback and felt it justified giving it. However, the more I read and research the craft, the more I begin to question if that feedback is helpful. I question this for one primary reason:
How many people do you know in life, who actually, seriously, one hundred percent know what they want?
Yeah . . . I know, right? If you have an extremely self-aware group of friends and family, I’d still expect this answer to be “not a lot”. I only recently realized what I wanted to do for a career and I’d been thinking about that for . . . oh, only about half my life. And this knowing what you want thing extends to much more than just a career! There are so many other aspects of life one could question what they want. Kids? Marriage or no? Where to live? What should I eat? What sort of movement practice is best for me? Political parties? Religion?
Every time you answer or even attempt to answer, one of these questions, I swear five more spring up.
Recently when I read about younger characters (young adult genre or new adult genre) I try to cut them some slack. It’s entirely possible they have no idea what they want, and you know what? I don’t blame them! I’ve always found it ridiculous that we ask a 16-year-old to choose what he/she wants to do for the rest of their lives. Most adults don’t even know what they want in life (I’ll cut them slack too), why do teenagers need to know? Societal pressure is why so many people are searching hard for something else to fulfill them. Or spend time procrastinating on social media instead of pursuing the thing they claim to want (side hustle, a book deal, a happy family, a pre-paid trip to Bali). Maybe the character is meant to act a little sporadic (obviously there are limits because I don’t need to know everything the character does-I only have so much time for a book) and make some bad choices that don’t seem in line with their “wants” because you know what? THEY HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THEY WANT ANYHOW. I mean, maybe they do, however, if the story is well-crafted that will probably change anyhow around 50-60%. Plus, the addition of seemingly crazy behavior is not only realistic, but it’s likely adding conflict, which is necessary for any story.
People not knowing what they want and acting a little crazy to figure it out is a truth in life.
So, now when I read and come across a character who doesn’t seem to know what they want I think that character is simply believable. Astringent “want” is no longer needed for me to feel satisfied. As long as they figure out their real “want” eventually in the story and complete their arc I’m usually happy anyhow. For the rest, I’m just along for the ride.