Need a Plot? What About Your CHARACTERS’ Needs?

Here’s another thing to think about while you’re reading, or if you’re a writer stuck in a story or stuck trying to get a story started: Needs.

David Collins spoke at the Midwest Writers Workshop one year when I attended, and gave us this list of Needs of Youth. I’m like, “Youth? Only Youth? Anybody needs these!”

To love and be loved
To feel secure, emotionally and physically
To belong to a family, peer group, community
To know and understand
To find beauty and order in life
To achieve, get “somewhere,” gain experience
To stretch the imagination into other worlds and break away from the usual

Now, here’s the thing: Sometimes a character has more than one of these needs that are in conflict. To feel secure AND to break away. To know something that will disrupt the community.

When you’re plotting (or following a plot), see if it doesn’t deepen things if you look beneath the obvious goals to the more basic needs that are being grasped at, threatened, sacrificed, compromised, or achieved by the plot points and action.

A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: Write the Needs on slips of paper. Mix them up. Pick out two and plot a five-point story using them.



I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, but now live in the woods in southern Indiana. Though I only write fiction, I love to read non-fiction. The more I learn about this world, the more fantastic I see it is.

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One thought on “Need a Plot? What About Your CHARACTERS’ Needs?

  1. Jay Noel

    March 4, 2013 at 9:42am

    That’s a great list. I worked with teens a lot as an English teacher for 5 yrs, and it’s right on. But you’re right, it applies to pretty much all of us.

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    • Author

      Marian Allen

      March 4, 2013 at 1:43pm

      It’s amazing to me, Jay, how much of the kids we used to be can still be seen, active and powerful, in the adults we are, no matter how old we get!

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  2. Jane

    March 4, 2013 at 11:49am

    Hi. As you know, I’m adding a few bits to my book, and I’ve been thinking mightily about what all they need to do. This list is a good adjunct to what I’ve been having to think about. So, in short, I’m needing to be analytic AND creative. The good news: It looks like I’m getting there. Yay!

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    • Author

      Marian Allen

      March 4, 2013 at 1:44pm

      Yay is right! I can’t wait to read the new version! Well, honestly, I CAN wait, because I know you’re making it EVEN BETTER, and I loved it already! 🙂

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  3. Beth Johnson

    March 4, 2013 at 12:03pm

    You know, this is a great list, and an embarrassing revelation to me. I somehow always considered the plot a separate thing – “This is what I’d like the story to be about, and these are the characters”. And yet, over all these years I’ve always found, with RP, that all the best stories really came from how the characters dealt with something that was important to them. Duh! Guess it’s clear why I’ve not written any Great American Novels! Yet. 🙂

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    • Author

      Marian Allen

      March 4, 2013 at 1:45pm

      LOL! Beth that GAN is just waiting for you to retire to the woods so you can give it your full attention! 🙂

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  4. Damyanti

    March 4, 2013 at 10:22pm

    What my characters want leads me to plot, at all times. Thanks for sharing these, Marian!

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