Beemgee/Character/Perceived Need

In this post we’ll continue to consider Beemgee’s character development process. Perceived need is the next attribute in our quest to build our protagonist.

Recall, our hero has an external problem. He’s been thrust into a situation or he’s been assigned a mission. Either way, along with this problem comes a desire or want. Succinctly put, our hero desires a solution. In essence, he wants another state of being, one free from the external problem. This naturally yields a goal, what he has to achieve to reach this state of being. Most often, a goal consists of a number of tasks that must be performed in order for the goal to be achieved.

This leads directly into the topic of today’s post, the perceived need. Here’s Beemgee summary:

“The perceived need is what the character believes she or he needs in order to reach the goal. If the goal is the apparent thing that ought to be achieved in order to solve the external problem, then there may well be certain knowledge, objects or people that the character needs to find or attain first in order to reach the goal. A character may have to do a number of things before it is possible to reach the goal. Attaining these needs marks stages or phases of the story journey. What stages are there in this story?”

In a more detailed article on this subject, Beemgee offers several examples. I’ll use one. Say the goal is to reach a certain place, one too far for an easy or strenuous stroll. Obviously, our character needs some form of transportation. Let’s say he decides that he needs a car. Quickly, the issue of access and availability arises. Where and how is he going to get a car?

Examples like this illustrate how plot (events in a story) develop. Of course, after acquiring the car and driving to the intended destination, the hero may learn things have changed. He’s now at a port city and learns the treasure has been moved. It’s now on an island. How does he go there? Well, a boat of course. Obviously, you see where this is going and all we’ve considered is the issue of transportation. We haven’t yet discussed the equipment he will need to open the golden-laden chest.

It’s critical to note that these perceived needs and the journey(s) they create deal only with the external story, not the most interesting and reader-grabbing internal story. That is where the real story gold resides. That’s where the hero is battling his psychological problems, including the why he needs to find the treasure. In the best and most powerful stories, this ‘why’ won’t be for the hero to increase his net worth. It will be something deep, like he needs the money to pay for his only child’s heart transplant, or to show his father that he’s not a lazy, good-for-nothing idiot.

All great stories are built on character arcs, usually of the positive kind. The hero starts off believing a lie and over the life of the story discovers the truth and winds up in a better place, at least psychologically.

In sum, the external plot mirrors the hero’s internal journey, the ‘road’ he travels to a better place, a state of being where he may or may not have achieved his external goal, but certainly one where he’s resolved his inner need (assuming a positive character arc is the author’s intent).

Perceived needs could be described as the power source that moves the story train down the tracks while allowing the hero inside a passenger compartment to deal with more personal issues.

Sign up for my Myths, Mysteries & Murders readers’ group for news, special offers, and to receive a FREE digital copy of The Boaz Scorekeeper:

Beemgee/Character/ External Problem

In my Sanity Snippets series we’ve been progressing through H.R. D’Costa’s steps in creating a story outline (based on her excellent book, Sizzling Story Outlines). If followed, these steps will produce a viable first draft outline. D’Costa refers to this as “the first iteration” (two other books detail the second and final phases, “iterations” of her outlining process). I hope to continue creating posts (every 7 to 10 days) that track each step in the “first iteration” book.

However, I’m at the point I need to start planning my next novel. Although I’m still a few weeks away from completing the final edits of The Boaz Stranger, my mind is daily tempting me with random thoughts that could reveal the makings of a new idea. To capture, clarify, and organize my mental wanderings, I intend to Beemgee.

What in the heck is Beemgee? It’s a story development tool I recently discovered. That’s also the name of the company. From its website: “Tell a Better Story. Your tool for character development and plot outlining.”

After publishing ten novels (with the eleventh one due by November 1st) I can honestly say I need a story development tool. As you might have gathered if you are a consistent reader of my blog, I’m trying to transition from being a pantser to a plantser, possibly to becoming a plotter.

My story writing tool of choice is Scrivener. It too has many features that enable a writer to develop his story before beginning to draft. Features such as the Corkboard and the Outline views are excellent. However, Scrivener isn’t designed to provide a library of craft information.

This is where Beemgee excels. It provides a virtual storehouse of writing theory and instruction. Whether you are new to creative writing or a veteran, you will find interesting and instructive guidance on how to “[t]ell a better story.”

Beemgee’s focus is two-fold, character and plot. These are the two main characteristics all stories require. I’d safely declare that Beemgee offers a graduate level course in how to develop both character and plot. And, since it asserts that plot arises from characters (their actions and their interactions/conflicts with other characters), let’s start with character.

First, let’s get grounded. As stated, I’m at the initial stages of planning my twelfth novel. I intend to use Beemgee’s powerful software development tool to prepare before starting my first draft in Scrivener. If you are considering your first novel, why don’t you come along?

Again, to find a viable novel-length idea, we’ll start with our characters. Just so you know, this isn’t a universal approach. Some writers start with a chosen genre (mystery, romance, thriller, sci-fi, etc.), or a story seed. Since Beemgee is firm in its position that plot is produced from characters, that’s where I’ll begin.

Although my previous random thoughts have showered me with a vague picture of one of my main characters, he is sizing up to be the story’s antagonist, not the protagonist. For you, it might be different. You might one, few, or no clue about your story or your characters. That’s okay. I choose to trust the Beemgee process. I hope you will do the same.

To me, Beemgee is unique because of its approach to character development. It doesn’t per se start with the character’s backstory. It starts with his external problem. What do I mean by that?

Notice, I said “external problem” not internal. The internal problem/need comes later. Beemgee defines external problem as follows: “[t]he external problem may be a predicament the character suddenly finds him or herself in or a mission set to her or him.”

Think of a detective in a mystery story. Usually, there is a murder early on. At some time shortly thereafter, the private investigator is hired to find the killer, or the detective of a police agency or prosecuting attorney is assigned the case. Now, in this context, we know the external problem. It’s external to the private investigator or detective. And, as Beemgee says, “[m]ost stories begin with the protagonist being confronted with an external problem.” See how plot evolves from character and we’ve only addressed the first question in Beemgee’s character development tool.

So, what problem will your protagonist solve, or attempt to solve, in your novel? Of course, the list is endless, but I have a hunch it has something to do with yourself, not necessarily your personal problem, but something you are aware of from the news, or maybe a twist on a short story or novel you’ve read. Right now it could be as simple as a politician (say a U.S. Senator) with an addiction problem.

Take out pencil and paper and start brainstorming potential external problems. Don’t worry that you know virtually nothing. Don’t worry about the problem’s insignificance. That issue may reverse itself when you create another character, say your story’s antagonist. Stories thrive and survive on conflict. So think of characters who are opposed, they are on opposite sides of the external problem. For example, our detective wants to find the killer. The killer wants his freedom and will do whatever necessary to avoid being caught. And, maybe to kill again. But, that’s a different horse for now.

As you brainstorm, don’t forget to look at your own life, or that of your spouse, friend, barber, doctor, or other acquaintance. Does one of them have an external problem? Fiddle with it, manipulate it. Turn it into a problem your character wants to solve. Here’s an example. Is your friend’s boss battling a financial problem? Is the boss on the verge of declaring bankruptcy but needs to find a better alternative. Define the boss’s external problem. What will he do to ‘solve’ it?

If you brainstorm and drill deep but still come up dry, try Google. Read a few newspapers. Most every article can be fictionalized.

Writing a novel is messy work. It’s difficult at best. “I hate writing, but I love having written.” This quote is attributed to many writers, including Dorothy Parker and Frank Norris.

There’s nothing more challenging and rewarding than completing a novel. Well, that might be a stretch but at least you know what I believe.

Sanity Snippet #1

Your protagonist has an external problem. It’s one he’s had for a while, or it’s something that just hit him out of nowhere. I apologize to all females. I use the male gender to avoid the burdensome ‘he’s had/she’s had.’

Give your protagonist a name and describe his problem.

Do not make this difficult. At most, this should take only a few minutes.

Grab your pencil and write. Just a sentence or two will do. Don’t fret about grammar and punctuation.

It could be as simple as: Fourteen-year-old Billy is losing his mother. He doesn’t know his father. Billy dreads moving in with his Aunt Melanie.

Or, here’s another approach: Billy’s problem is his Aunt Melanie.

Your protagonist name can be anything. His problem can be anything. Of course, if you already have a story idea, use it for this practice assignment.

You are in control.

Use this photo if you need to.

Photo by Jill Burrow on

Start keeping a log of how many words you write per day (date/number of words). You can use a small notepad or a note-taking APP on your phone.

Sign up for my Myths, Mysteries & Murders readers’ group for news, special offers, and to receive a FREE digital copy of The Boaz Scorekeeper: