Opening (and continuing) with desire

Two quotations from “Silent Movie” by Charles Baxter in his collection A Relative Stranger:


She was tired of men’s voices, of their volume and implacability. She had the idea that she would spend the day not listening to any of them. She would just shut them off. She would try to spend the day inside images, instead. She wasn’t sure it was possible. 



“Loretta,” she asked, back at the florist’s, “how do I get rid of this guy?”

“Darling,” Loretta shouted, “first ignore him and then just move out.”


What she wanted was a vacation from words spoken by voices below middle C. 

The first quotation starts the story; the second is taken from about the middle of the story. In both, the character’s desire is articulated directly, very directly in the second. A plan is also implied, as is the question of how well it can be followed.

Characters with desires that readers are aware of and can relate to are often characters that readers find engaging and interesting. The central question of the story becomes whether or not the character will satisfy his or her desire. This question and the character’s reaction to dangers that would prevent satisfaction can create drama in the way Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction, for example, outlines. The directness of the articulation of desire and the character’s own awareness of that desire also characterize effectively.

So, where and how will readers of the fiction you are currently working on become aware of the main character’s desire? What dangers to the satisfaction of that desire are there in your story? Obviously, these dangers don’t have to be dangers to physical well-being or health to be dangerous. And what a character desires doesn’t have to be exotic, shouldn’t be, really, to interest readers.

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