Ah, Christmas. Is there any time of the year that elicits such an incredible range of conflicting emotions? We love it, we hate it, we threaten to run away to a deserted tropical island off the coast of Amalfi and bury our heads in the sand until it’s over. Every year, various members of my family ask what they should buy me for Christmas. Which should be a relatively simple question. If nothing else, there’s always a book I’m dying to read.
But here’s the catch: do I ask for what I want, or what I need?
I want one of these:
I need one of these:
So which way do I go? Frivolous but fun? Sensible but boring? I have to say, I have never regretted the year I dragged my husband down the housewares aisle of WalMart, found the shelf with the high end KitchenAid mixers and said, “THIS ONE.” A week later when he went back to buy it, the woman who wrapped it sighed wistfully. “I wish my husband would buy me something like this.” And my husband said, “Let me explain how it works…”
But I also loved the year he surprised me with a diamond ring to replace the wedding ring I’d broken a few weeks earlier. Even though he spent more than he should have and we could have used the money to refinish the walls in the spare room that used to be two rooms before I got an urge to do some home improvement.
Hmm. I wonder if he’ll buy me another ring this year to replace that second one I broke? And now that I’ve mentioned it, I’m thinking it’s a good thing I’m not as hard on husbands as I am wedding rings.
This whole concept of wants versus needs has been on my mind because I’ve been doing some beta reading and critiquing for an amazing writer, and we’ve spent much of the time poking around inside her characters trying to figure out what makes them tick, and I’ve been learning things about my own characters in the process.
One mantra of storytelling says, “Tell me what your character wants. Then tell me why they can’t have it.” I sort of disgree. Not really disagree, but add another layer. Tell me what your character wants. Then tell me what they need. And hallelujah, fling the confetti if those two things are different, because you’ve got yourself a character with some issues, and everybody knows characters with issues are the most fun to torture. Even better if their wants and needs are diametrically opposed, because then you’ve got a character with ISSUES, and you can really inflict some pain.
What could possibly be more entertaining than the character who gets exactly what she wants and ends up miserable? (Yes, Scarlett, I’m looking at you.)
The classic contradiction of wants and needs in romance is the character who’s been badly burned in a previous relationship. Self preservation drives them to keep the world at arm’s length. They want to build a life where they are completely self-reliant and therefore invulnerable. But of course, what they need is security, and real emotional security can only come from a love so deep and unconditional that it heals their scars. Except they can’t achieve that love until they overcome their own desire to avoid the pain of another failed relationship.
Let the games begin.
So what about your favorite characters? Can you think of a movie or a book where a character fought the want versus need battle? Or even yourself? Do you have a little Want devil on one shoulder, whispering wishes in your ear, while the Need angel on the other side tries to plead her case?
As for our Christmas…my kid has decided he wants a snow cone maker. His mother really needs a few days on that sandy beach, but I’d settle for a good margarita. Lucky for us, we have managed to find the perfect confluence of his wants and my needs.
Kari Lynn Dell – Montana for Real
Hey, all, can’t wait to hear your comments. Due to internet access issues during the day I’ll have to wait until my lunch hour to pop in and chat, but please don’t let that slow you down!