Friday, September 2, 2022

Writing an Un-Put-Downable Character (Part 8 of 10): Dreams

by A.C. Williams @ACW_Author

What do you want?

Seriously. I’m asking. What do you want? Because we all want something. Right now, I want fajitas. That’s not an exorbitant dream, but it’s a dream. 

It is a normal, natural state of being for a person to want something they do not currently have. Having dreams is part of being human. You have them, and so your characters need to have them as well. That’s what we’re talking about this time: DREAMS. 

If you really want to split hairs, dreams and goals are different concepts, both in fiction and in life, but for the sake of brevity I’m going to treat them as synonyms. For our purposes, a dream is the inner desire your character has that motivates his or her choices throughout the story. 

Your character must want something. 

It doesn’t have to be big or world changing. Shoot, it really could be a platter of fajitas! It can be anything. But whatever it is, they must want it enough to pursue it.

If your character doesn’t want anything, may I gently suggest that either 1) you don’t know your character well enough yet or 2) that character shouldn’t be your protagonist. 

I’m only half joking about the fajitas, but let’s run with that for now. What will that desire lead me to do? Get dressed, drive across town, wait for a table at a restaurant until I can place an order? Maybe I can’t leave the house, and I need to order fajitas for delivery. But delivery is so expensive! What challenges or obstacles might I encounter in this glorious pursuit?

We all know that story is conflict. We’ve talked about that over and over, and in several of the different topics in this series conflict has played a role in more than just the story. Conflict should show up in personalities, in back story, in setting, in language, and even in your character’s thought life. 

If you give your character an impossible dream, you’ve automatically created an element of inherent conflict in your story. 
  • A paralyzed man dreams of running a marathon. 
  • A blind dog dreams of finding his way back to the master he loves. 
  • A dishonored samurai dreams of ruling over his clan. 
  • Or how about this: A woman who’s supposed to be watching her cholesterol dreams of Mexican food.

See? Conflict. 

Dreams can take any shape or form, but they need to fit your genre. If you’re writing science fiction, it won’t do to have your main character dream of a festive Christmas wedding to the rancher down the road. 

Your character’s dream also needs to resonate with your readers. The best way to develop a dream that will accomplish that, however, is to really dive deep into your character’s motivation. For this, you’re going to need all the other groundwork you’ve already done. You need to know history and personality, specifically. 

Let’s look at some examples: Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, and Elizabeth Bennet. 

What does Luke want? Well, he wants to be a Jedi, right? He must dream of being a warrior. 

What about Harry? Well, he is pursuing a magical education at Hogwarts, so he must want to be a wizard. 

And Elizabeth Bennet? Well, she obviously wants to stay single for the rest of her life, because she has turned up her nose at every marriage proposal that comes her way. 

In my opinion and experience, you have to dig deeper than your character’s actions and choices to uncover the motivation that drives them.

Luke Skywalker wanted significance. He dreamed of being a part of something bigger than his moisture-farming destiny on Tatooine, and becoming a Jedi was just the route he took to get there. 

Harry Potter wanted a family. His dream focused on a sense of belonging and acceptance and acknowledgment as a person of value. He was magical already, but he needed the support and friendship of the wizarding community to reach his full potential. 

Elizabeth Bennet wanted to be loved and respected. Her dream was having the relationship her parents didn’t have, and if she couldn’t get it, she had vowed to remain single. (Of course, our dear Mr. Darcy had other plans, buy Elizabeth made him work for it.)

If you think about it that way, all three of those dreams will resonate with the average person. Those are natural human desires. Once you understand the heart of what your character wants, it will help you shape the journey he or she needs to take in order to achieve it. 

Is that clear as mud? 

Great. Because the Mexican restaurant down the road is calling my name….

In case you need to reference where we are in this series, here’s our outline: 

  • Personality 
  • Conflict 
  • Contradictions 
  • History 
  • Interests 
  • Language 
  • Internalization 
  • Dreams 
  • Observables 
  • Growth


Award-winning author, A.C. Williams is a coffee-drinking, sushi-eating, story-telling nerd who loves cats, country living, and all things Japanese. She’d rather be barefoot, and if she isn’t, her socks won’t match. She has authored eight novels, two novellas, three devotional books, and more flash fiction than you can shake a stick at. A senior partner at the award-winning Uncommon Universes Press, she is passionate about stories and the authors who write them. Learn more about her book coaching and follow her adventures online at