When we develop characters, we know the drill. You must know what your character wants. But as I’ve worked on my current novel, I wasn’t getting to the heart of the character the way I wanted. So, I switched up the wording and asked, “What does this character yearn for?”
The idea of yearning goes deeper for me than just asking, “What does your character want?”
Yearning is a deep-seated emotional vacuum that needs to be filled. It’s more compelling because it permeates the character’s life. Also, it implies change and that’s crucial. If a character years to be more respected, then we can see that he progresses along the continuum somehow from NO RESPECT to WIDELY RESPECTED. The idea of “wanting” didn’t give me the character arc in the same way that “yearning” did.
We could say that a mystery is about a yearning for answers. But that’s not personal enough for a yearning. Answers fill a character’s want or need, but it’s hard to see it as fulfilling a yearning. A wish/need for excitement — as in a thriller or action/adventure — doesn’t feel quite personal enough to be called a yearning either. Yearnings are for character stories or subplots, places where raw emotions surface and are thwarted in the service of the story, so that the yearning becomes even deeper. Yearnings are personal.
Yearnings to Write By
- Yearn for Each Other – Romance. The hero and heroine yearn for each other. When characters fall in love, it’s not enough just that they want each other. On some level, their relationship must be tested, thwarted, or put on a side burner. But underneath the yearning smolders. The continuum goes from NO RELATIONSHIP to INTIMATE RELATIONSHIP.
- Yearn for Growth – Coming of Age. Maturation comes with deep yearnings to be more than you are at this point in time. Yearnings to become worthy, proud, skilled, competent, or loved. The continuum goes from NAIVE to EXPERIENCED.
- Yearn for Change – Quest or Journey. Quests and journeys take characters on a journey from point A to point B. The most successful quest/journey stories, though, let the inner journey shape the path and the complications. In other words, the character’s yearning for change is a major plot driver. The continuum goes from STATUS QUO to MAJOR CHANGE.
- Yearn for Connection – Relationships. . This can cover many types of stories: revenge, rivalry, underdog, love, forbidden love, sacrifice, discovery and ambition. When the story centers on positive relationships, the yearning is for connection. When it’s a negative relationship, the yearning is to dissolve the connections. The continuum goes from ISOLATED to CONNECTED.
By exploring my character’s deepest yearnings, I’ve easily created a character arc, which puts me a long way toward a plot, as well.