Friday, August 19, 2011

16385--Why Your Characters Want What They Want

Whether it's 3 for $5, 4 for $1, the 6- or 10-piece deal, or buy one get free, it seems we all want to get more for our money.  No one ever says, "I want less bang for my buck" or even just "I want bang for my buck."  We want more bang for our buck.

Admittedly, I don't have a degree in the subject, but I've done my fair share of amateur anthropology.  Years ago, I noticed two differences that stood out in discoveries about Neanderthal and Cro-magnon man.  First was that Neanderthal territory shrunk over time and Cro-Magnon territory expanded over time.  The second thing, that I suppose seemed like more of a big deal to me, was that while both species made tools, the products were different.  Allow me to elaborate...

Neanderthal tools that were dug up showed that they were bright and resourceful enough to make all the same basic items to which we're accustomed.  They had the hammer and spear and hand axe, as expected.  What was most interesting about their tools, though, was that once they had the tool figured out, that was the only way it was ever made.  For thousands of years (yes, thousands--think about that), every tool was made in the same way it had always been.

Now, when digging up Cro-magnon remains, the drastic difference appeared.  Despite similar brains, Cro-magnon tools looked like they had taken a trip down to Fred Flintstone's local Sears.  They had the 120-piece toolkits, containing differently sized and shaped variations of every useful thing they could think of to make.  Cro-magnon man was innovative.  These were the guys who were moving their camps around year after year to find out what was over the next hill and swarm all over the world.  These are the guys who followed a career path that carried them on to become modern man.

What did I learn?  What did those primitive butt-scratchers pass along to their modern children that matters to how life is lived today?

I realized that if I could sum it up in one neat package it would be this: more.

That's it.  "More" is the motto.  What did they say in Wall Street?  "Greed is good."  In practice, enough is never enough.  More profit is sought.  More territory is sought.  More for our money is sought.  We're on a ceaseless quest for more of anything we want, whether that's sex, food, money, cars, living space or stuff to fill the space with.  Good luck communicating the concept of "non-renewable resources" to a population hard-wired for "more".  To them, we'll never run out of anything because the very concept of "more" means there's always "more" to be sought and obtained.

We place great value on friendship and tout that a best friend is a special and precious thing, but how many people have ever trumpeted having one Facebook friend?  How many Twitter followers are enough?  I guarantee you that a company that makes a $10 billion profit one year will set a higher profit goal for its sales force the next year.

People want to "have it all"'s more!  Those who get it still won't be happy because it's not enough.  That's what more is all about and five hundred hours of psychotherapy are not about to change millenia of evolution that's still working.  It pushes us to go forth and strive for lofty goals.  What will most parents tell you they want for their children?  More than the parent had.

Do you know why we have morphine and cocaine today?  Because neither addicting a third of China to opium nor being able to work vigorously at high altitudes by chewing on a coca leaf were enough to satisfy us.  Somebody had to have...more!

OK, so the secret's out.  You can stop feeling guilty over striving and questing, etc.  If you're writing, you now know what drives your characters (assuming you didn't already) to pursue their specific motivations.  If they're human, that antagonist wants more [blank] and even the protagonist wants more [blank] unless your hero is very odd or even inhuman.  That's part of what will make them seem more than a mere two-dimensional simulation and take on the feel of real people.  Fill them up with enough of that drive and they may even seem obsessed.  Watch what they do then.

Is there something in particular for you for which there's never enough?  Does that carry into your writing?


  1. Something for me of which there's never enough? Time and rest.
    A character in my novel does yearn, demand, work towards a vacation. :-)
    louise3anne twitter

    1. Not much of a sleeper myself, though when I do I tend to go deep and have wonderfully weird dreams. Puts me on the fence, since I hate to give up the time, but I get good stuff out of it so I try not to fuss.

      More time would be a great gift. Reminds me of the time back when pre-Crisis Superman went into fight training with Muhammed Ali. They went into a tesseract Superman set up where time flowed faster than in normal space. They were able to get two months of training done in a day. Gotta love relativity.

  2. I agree! I would like more time! When I was young I thought I had all the time in the world; that there would be plenty of time for "that' in the future. Now that I am older, and the path ahead is definitely shorter than the one already traveled, with so much still to learn and do . . . I yearn more time, and more energy to fill that time!

    1. Stay healthy. The science department is working on the longevity solution. Like you, unless I can seriously rev up my typing speed, I may be looking into getting an extension. Meanwhile, use what you have as wisely as possible. Don't get into such a rush that you sacrifice quality.

      Thanks for the feedback. Stay in touch.

      Happy New Year!