Awhile back, a writer was critiquing another author’s novel and said a little snootily,
“This strikes me as a lot of wish-fulfillment.”
She was right, but the impetus for nearly all fiction comes from wish-fulfillment. If a
reader is in the mood for a good romance, or a thriller, or a western, or a fable, she’ll
hunt down something that suits her tastes, and if it delivers the emotions that she
wants more powerfully than she imagined, she’ll be delighted.
In other words, books come in different flavors.
But some books are more complex and subtle in their flavors than the average reader
would imagine, just as a fine chef will often surprise you with their unusual ingredients.
For example, you might want a little romance, but the author adds in a bit of terror,
profundity, and far more craving than thought you could tolerate—which only makes
the ending more satisfying.
Sometimes our wish fulfillment doesn’t come at the level of trying to create an emotion.
It might have more to do with intellectual curiosity. I often find myself wanting to
understand how it would have really felt to climb Mt. Everest or to live in ancient Rome.
I’ve even written historical novels like In the Company of Angels in part as an exercise, in
an effort to try to imagine the heartaches and triumphs of others.
Some authors are storytellers whose sincere wish is merely to entertain vast audiences,
to guide them through an imaginary adventure, and they become skilled entertainers
I know other authors whose wish is primarily to dazzle readers, to prove their superior
storytelling skills, or to win awards.
In short, all novels are wish-fulfillment. Yet sometimes it is hard to understand just what
wishes the author hopes to fulfill. For example, when you read a novel that is trite and
poorly written, you might not understand that the author really did wish to succeed, he
just didn’t understand what he needed to do to get there.
All of which has led me to consider something. When I start a novel nowadays, I ask
myself questions like, “What will the reader want from this story?” I have a character in
a dire situation, what would the reader want to have happen? Is the reader looking for
a bit of romance, or a grand adventure? Do they want a deep and powerful mystery
solved? Do they want to be transformed by a story? What would the reader want to see
happen to the villain? What do I want from this novel? How can I facilitate those
When I’m plotting a novel, I find that if I write down the answers to these questions—if I
create a wish list, I’ll discover that I’m trying to create a novel that is more intricate than
what I first imagined.
For example, let’s say that I have a middle-aged woman whose husband was killed in a
war twenty years ago. She wants to solve the mystery of who exactly killed her husband
and confront that person. She wants to see what kind of monster he is.
Meanwhile, we have the story of a man who fought in a war, and in the heat of battle,
out of his own fear, murdered a man who he realizes later was raising his hands to
surrender. He’s been haunted by that image for decades and has endeavored to make
amends. He’s become a doctor who runs a free clinic, dedicated to helping others.
And perhaps this is billed as a romance, where the woman travels to search for her
husband’s killer and falls in love.
While I’m at it, maybe I want to entertain as wide an audience as possible and try to win
an award. So let’s call it an epic historical mystery romance.
What would I have to do to accomplish all of that? Well, a little thought generates a
whole list of items. I might consider first, “what war are we talking about?” Is this the
French Revolution, World War I, or Vietnam? If I go with the French Revolution, let’s
consider how the murder took place and what impact the Napoleonic Wars had over the
next two decades.
I might have to look at what other authors have done, and consider how to beat their
work. Crud, I’m going up against Tolstoy’s War and Peace!
I’ll want to make the story believable, so I’ll need deal with each step of how our
heroine solves the mystery, seeking out every man she can from the troops that
attacked her husband’s group, and so on.
I’ll have to consider how the killer changed and grew over time and create a chronology
of major events.
I’ll have to weave in a powerful love story that is historically accurate and make it both
shocking and utterly believable.
But in doing all of this, do you see how I am guided constantly by my wish list? That’s
the fun of the process. The work is guided merely by your whims.
Dave has two new Workshop “David Farland’s Ultimate writing workshop” and an “Epic Novel Writing Workshop”. Check them out here ” http://mystorydoctor.com/live-workshops-2/
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