Stories of Desire

I’ve been thinking a lot about stories and storytelling as of late… after a somewhat un-engaging tryst with story commissions that I really don’t feel like talking about right now, I have reached a conclusion… that upon further thought, I realize that hundreds of people have reached before me:

The one key component to any story is DESIRE.

I don’t mean Desire, the character from Sandman (depicted above while speaking a fundamental truth about storytelling). And I don’t necessarily mean sexual desire either… well, it CAN be sexual desire, but it doesn’t HAVE to be.The important thing is that every proper story… really every proper narrative is really, most fundamentally, about someone WANTING something. And usually the story reaches its climax when they get what they want, or it becomes clear beyond any reasonable doubt that they AREN’T getting what they want.

Sometimes the central desire is obvious from the start, like in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Dorothy wants to go home to Kansas, and the story follows her through all her trials and tribulations until she gets what they wants.

Sometimes the desire changes during the story itself, sometimes it turns out that getting your desire isn’t a good thing. Many stories have several characters with conflicting desires, and the story and conflict happens when these desires clash. Superman wants to help people, Lex Luthor wants to use them for his own purposes, and now the story can begin.

If the point of the story is that someone DOESN’T get what they want, then it’s either tragedy or comedy. The tragedy of Oedipus is built around someone not getting what they want… Oedipus’s father, and Oedipus himself, both wanted to escape their fate, and in their attempts at doing so they assured that it happened. But the idea of not getting what you want is also essential to comedy; Tom wants to eat Jerry and he doesn’t get to do it. Or, in a classic “comedy duo” example: Most “Bert and Ernie” skits center around Bert wanting something and not getting it… usually thanks to Ernie, whose chaotic presence means Bert’s simple desires (a good night’s sleep, some peace and quiet, a tidy house) are totally out of his reach…. and the skit usually ends on Bert’s frustration as he gives up.

Even the hypno-comics I’ve posted here generally center around wanting something, and often not getting it. For example, my first Chibi-Dina comic, Chibi-Dina Gets Hypnotized, centers around not getting what you want: In the comic, I want to just lounge around naked and be lazy an entire weekend, but I end up getting hypnotized into working the entire weekend instead.

I suppose that’s why I had a problem with those story commissions… the stories, such as they were, had no DESIRE, The characters didn’t really want anything. They did things, but there was no real goal to any of it, other than some cheap, bland, PG-13ish fetish fuel.  As a result the story just felt hollow, dull and unsatisfying.

So, I suppose the moral here is that if you’re going to write a story, make sure that your characters have desires, and that these desires actually tie into the plot.