Every character has an agenda…

anonymous people standing on street among smoke during protests at night

Knowing what a character wants and what they need is critical to giving that character agency and realism. There may be other paths to reach the same goal, but for me, knowing my characters requires understanding their motives. I have to know what they actually need as well as what they believe they want, and those aren’t always the same.

In Fantastic America and Midwestern Magicians, the three POV (Point Of View) characters believe they want different things. Ashley starts as a seeker of truth, Daniel is a protector, and Jerry is a psychopath. Jerry doesn’t change, but Ashley and Daniel set off on different paths by the end of the book. Their changes feel real, grounded in what those characters want and need. The plot gives them reason to change, but the characters make realistic decisions based on what we know of them before the story unfolds.

This isn’t all that special. Characters should change from the book’s opening scene to the end of a story. In order for a book to grip your readers and hold their attention, characters need parfait like layers. We need to know the emotional ravages the plot has inflicted on someone before their triumph over adversity means anything. Once compounded by physical tragedy, and mystical events beyond their control, you have the start of a great internal character parfait.

Take all that raw emotion, inject a whole cast of characters, all carrying an internal parfait, and add conflicting agendas. The story is primed for the climax. An event that shows not only the conflicts, but the stakes for failure and success. Why did Luke turn off his targeting computer? Will Ariel be able to go home without her prince? Should Arthur have left that stone in the sword? The climax tests the true mettle of the characters we dreamed up as a vehicle for our story. Their agenda may lead them to the moment of truth, but the character still has to sink or swim.

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