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.

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Let’s beemgee. If you missed my September 3rd post, Beemgee is a company that offers a story development tool of the same name. Note, I didn’t say a story writing tool (think Scrivener). Before we can write, we need to know a few things (preferably many) about our characters and what they’ll be doing. Of course, if you are a pantser, you just start writing and discover your story as you go along.

This is my second post about Beemgee. This is also my second story development series. See my Sanity Snippets posts to review H.R. D’Costa’s method for outlining a novel. I encourage you to buy, read, and study her book, Sizzling Story Outlines.

Beemgee is clear that story development requires a detailed and thoughtful consideration of both character and plot. It recommends starting with character since plot emerges from what our characters do.

My first post in this series was about our protagonist’s external problem. This is either a situation he finds himself in or a mission he chooses or has been assigned. External problems are not limited to our protagonist. Other characters, especially the antagonist, will have their own external problem. It could be the same but usually, as far as the antagonist and his helpers are concerned, it is directly opposed to the protagonist’s problem. Think of a detective and a killer. The detective is working to discover who killed the victim. The killer is working not get caught.

For now, let’s limit our thoughts to the protagonist. After we’ve discovered his external problem we should address what he wants (we really don’t have a story unless our protagonist wants something). The answer is rather simple. He wants a resolution, to be free from his external problem.

There’s actually two different types of want: the wish, or character want, and the plot want. We’ll limit our consideration to the latter. However, to put the two wants into perspective, review this example (from Beemgee):“Marty McFly wishes to be a musician (character want). He also wants to get Back to the Future (plot want).”

As to the plot want, Beemgee puts it like this: “The desired result of this solution is usually a state of being: solving the problem leads to marital bliss, wealth, power, immortality, survival, etc. So the want tends to be abstract – a state as opposed to a specific thing or point in time. It is distinct from the wish because it comes about because of the external problem. The want is the implied reward for achieving the more concrete goal of the story.”

Here’s an example from my second novel, The Boaz Scorekeeper.

Micaden Tanner attended a high school graduation party at Club Eden, a secluded cabin owned by the families of five classmates known as the Flaming Five for their basketball prowess. Twin girls from another school also attended the party and never made it home that fateful Friday night. A few days later, Micaden is arrested and accused of kidnapping and murder although the twins have not been found. He quickly learns he has been set up.

Micaden’s external problem is apparent. He stands to lose his freedom if he’s convicted at trial.

What Micaden wants is also apparent. He wants to be free of his external problem, his arrest and his upcoming trial.

There’s more. He wants justice for the twins. In essence, Micaden wants to live in a world where the Flaming Five are held accountable for the crimes they committed that fateful night.

By the way, you can read The Boaz Scorekeeper for free. Here’s the link:

It’s your turn. Take out a pencil and start brainstorming. If you haven’t already, give your protagonist an external problem. Then, describe what he wants.

I encourage you to follow this series and complete each exercise. You will acquire sufficient knowledge to draft your first novel (or second, or tenth).

In my next Beemgee post, we’ll consider the protagonist’s goal.

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