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The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

13 May 2015

Complication cards, part one


Today, author Ines Johnson returns with a three-part guest post on boiling down the meat of your story so that it fits on a single index card. The method can also be used for individual scenes. Today, she analyzes the differences between what a character wants and what that character needs.

Complication Cards, Part 1: The Character with a Hole
by Ines Johnson

All characters have holes (notice it rhymes with goal). When you open the first chapter of a book, you find a human being who believes they have a void and are lacking something crucial in their lives. Perhaps it’s the dream job, or the right social circle, or their mother’s approval. Maybe it’s love.

Rarely do you enter the world of a character who finds themselves whole. A part is usually missing. For the next tens of thousands of words, you embark on a journey with that character to fill that void.

Characters fill these holes in one of two ways; with a want or a need.

Remember when you were young and you wanted the fancy pair of jeans? Think Brenda in 90210. Fresh from the Midwest, she was thrown into the dangerous waters of the Beverly Hills elite, and her working class parents couldn’t afford the patchwork, ripped jeans that cost the same as a car payment. But Brenda wanted those holey jeans so that she could fit in with Kelly and Donna. In the eyes of her mother, Carol, there was a need for a new pair of pants for Brenda to wear to school, and that’s what Brenda got. Now if we watched that 20-year-old episode, we know what Brenda did to those new pair of jeans: She made holes in her jeans to fill her social void.

You might want a pair of Louis Vuitton shoes, but in the end you need a pair of functioning heels to go with that cute dress.

A want is a false goal, a red herring that throws both the reader and the character off the true course that will fill the character’s hole. It takes some time and some bumps in the road before the character realizes their want is not likely what they need. The need perfectly fills the void the character has been experiencing.


Take a look at your main character(s). What is it that they need to be whole again? Now consider whether it would serve your story for your character to have a false goal during much of the book that keeps them from seeing their true need.

Tomorrow (Thursday), you’ll learn the four types of obstacles that a character might face during their course of their quest for their need.


Ines Johnson writes romantic erotica, paranormal romance, and fairytale-retelling romance novels. You can find her Website at Part one of her newest romantic erotica book, The Loyal Steed, is at Amazon here. The complete serial can be preordered here.

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