Written by JJ Barnes
When you’re a writer, people will often tell you that they too want to write a book. They have ideas, maybe a character or a concept, but they’re just not sure how to start it. And I always give them the same piece of writing advice.
- Who is your main character?
- What do they want?
- What’s stopping them from getting it?
What Does This Writing Advice Mean?
Your story is your character in pursuit of something. You start with your character realising they want something. Through the story you send them after it, throwing challenges in their way. Your story ends when they either get the thing they want, or realise they can’t have it for some reason.
Sometimes through the story they will realise through the story that the thing they’re in pursuit of isn’t what they wanted after all. Their story is taking them back to realising that what they wanted was there all along. They wanted satisfaction in life not the thing they were in pursuit of.
Examples Of This Writing Advice In Action
The best example of this piece of writing advice put into action can be seen in any Disney movie.
Disney movies will start with an “I Want Song”. Simba sings that he can’t wait to be king. His story follows him on his path to becoming King of the Pride Lands. Ariel sings about wanting to be part of the human world. Her story follows her on her path to becoming a human. Moana sings about her desire to go out onto the ocean. Her story follows her on her path to leading her people off on boats to explore the world.
Jack Skellington in The Nightmare Before Christmas is a good example of a story following a character in pursuit of what they think they want, only to realise they were wrong. Jack feels dissatisfied with his life in Halloween Town and pursues the dream of being the Santa Claus. He comes to realise his satisfaction can be found at home, but with Sally not alone.
Sometimes your character will get what they want, sometimes they won’t, but your story follows them in pursuit of it.
Different Book Styles
Books and films aimed at children will often tell the audience what it is the story about in a simple way, such as the I Want Song. In Nature-Girl Vs Worst Nightmare, the book I wrote with my daughter, sees Nature-Girl in the first few pages expressing the desire to be a super hero without any of the adults in her life getting in the way or holding her back.
Adult books will often convey this message about what the character wants but in a more simple way, but it’ll still be the point of the story.
Keep Your Characters Motivated
When you’re telling your story, keep the character’s motivation in mind the whole way through. Don’t let yourself get distracted your story will start to wander. When you get lost the story will feel aimless and can be quite boring for the reader. Even if there is competing goals for your character, sub plots, and other events going on around them, your main character should always be actively working to achieve their goals.
Why This Is The Best Writing Advice
When you’re telling your story, keep the character’s motivation and what they’re in pursuit of in mind the whole way through. The best piece of writing advice you can get is to keep your characters motivated. Your story will be entertaining, it will keep moving forwards. If your characters are motivated your story will hold your audience’s attention.
More From JJ Barnes:
I am an author, filmmaker, artist and youtuber, and I am the creator and editor of The Table Read.
You can find links to all my work and social media on my website: www.jjbarnes.co.uk
Buy my books: www.sirenstories.co.uk/books
Follow me on Twitter: @JudieannRose