Do you have hands? Excellent. That’s a good start. Can you hold a pencil? Great. If you have a sketchbook, open it and start by making a line, a mark, wherever. DoodleChris Riddell
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.
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Let’s beemgee. Beemgee is a company that offers a story development tool of the same name.
Before we can write, we need to know a few things (preferably many) about our characters, and what they’ll be doing.
For now, let’s focus on the protagonist. We know he has an external problem, and he wants to solve that problem. His want is a desire for a future state. His goal is more tangible. It’s a point in time he has to reach. It’s the point at which he solves his external problem.
Readers want to know our protagonist’s goal, how he’s going to solve his external problem. They’re constantly asking themselves, “will Wild Bill reach his goal?” Readers likely won’t buy into our story if the protagonist’s goal is nebulous.
Would you get excited enough to invest ten or fifteen hours of your precious time in a story where the hero’s goal is to “feel better about himself”? Not likely. We want him to stop the serial killer. We want him to win the girl. We want him to discover the vaccine, win the election, or expose the conspiracy that sent an innocent man to prison.
Goals transform a random walk into a chase.Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
As you probably suspect. The protagonist goal (to be a fitting goal) takes a while to accomplish. Our hero’s journey, and thus our story’s plot, will comprise the steps he has to take to reach his goal.
It might take the entire novel. Or, our hero may accomplish it by the story’s midpoint. If the latter, the second half of our book will deal with the consequences of our protagonist reaching his goal. Maybe, he realizes, reaching his goal didn’t fulfill an inner need, and there’s something else he needs to do. Maybe he discovers there’s another wall to climb before learning the truth, or finding the princess.
It’s your turn. Take out a pencil and start brainstorming. If you haven’t already, give your protagonist an external problem, and describe what he wants. Finally, give him a clear and definitive goal.
In my next Beemgee post, we’ll consider our protagonist’s task.
Every good novel has at least one protagonist, and every protagonist has a goal. Use H.R. D’Costa’s (Aka HRD) SMART technique to make sure your protagonist’s story objective is powerful enough to go the distance and keep your audience reading.
SMART is an acronym. Here’s how HRD desribes each component:
S – Specific (it’s concrete, not amorphous or abstract)
M – Measureable (it has a clear indicator of success or failure)
A – Actionable (even a brief description immediately conjures a few of the action steps needed to accomplish it)
R – Realistic (it’s credible for your hero to achieve it)
T – Time-bound (it must be accomplished by a certain deadline)
Keep in mind that other story characters also have goals. Use SMART to discover what your antagonist is trying to accomplish. Sometimes, you can start here and work backwards to discover your protagonist’s goal.
Here’s how I describe Lee Harding’s SMART goal in my current work in progress: S (he wants Ray Archer brought to justice for the kidnapping and murder of Kyle Bennett, Lee’s childhood friend who disappeared half-a-century ago); M (either Ray will be arrested or he won’t); A (there are multiple things Lee can do to investigate Kyle’s disappearance and Ray’s involvement); R (Lee is an attorney, thus he, along with allies such as a private investigator and the District Attorney, can marshall the skills and resources needed); and T (Lee arrives in Boaz in late November and has until February (the beginning of Spring semester at Yale Law School) to accomplish his goal).
It’s time to write. Use HRD’s SMART technique to discover your protagonist’s goal. Fifteen minutes invested in focused free-writing might stimulate your creative juicies. Start your session by asking yourself, “what question is my protagonist trying to answer?” Or, “what problem is he trying to solve?” After your time is over, write your protagonist’s SMART goal.