When starting a story, your main character has to desire something otherwise the story won’t work. Don’t skip this step.
At the most basic level, the MC only wants to escape. The MC has been reduced to ‘the level of an animal’.
At the other extreme you have a high fantasy plot, in which the MC desires to save the entire story world.
Once your character has her desire line, she’ll generally need some allies to help her with her goal. In film, the allies will also function as sounding boards, though this shouldn’t be their only function. Use this ally to define your MC. Never make the ally a more interesting character than the MC. The story should be about your most interesting character.
– notes from John Truby, The Anatomy Of Storytelling
Other critics speak not in terms of character desire but in terms of motive. This concept comes in particularly handy when talking about the lower end of the desire line, in which the character seems to be hanging around not wanting much at all.
Dostoevskian character has at least three layers, writes James Wood in How Fiction Works:
- TOP LAYER: The announced motive. What Truby talks about when he talks about ‘desire’.
- SECOND LAYER: Unconscious motivation. Those strange inversions wherein love turns into hate and guilt expresses itself as poisonous, sickly love.
- BOTTOM LAYER: Can only be understood religiously. These characters act like this because they want to be known; even if they are unaware of it, they want to reveal their baseness. They want to confess. They want to reveal the dark shamefulness of their souls. They act scandalously and appallingly without quite knowing why.
This all explains why Freud and Nietzche were attracted to Dostoevsky’s work.