Make Your Characters Thirsty

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A Groundhog that needs water

Have you ever had one of those days? I’m fairly sure everyone has. Either that or I’m just completely weird.

Anyway, it’s something that I’ve never seen in a story.

“How on Earth is this relevant?”, you may ask. Well, I’ll tell you.

So much of being a human is wrapped up in these strange little details. Things like needing more to drink or eat, lacking sleep, etc, are all core parts of being a human. But yet as writers it’s likely the last thing on our minds.

Every once in awhile, someone in a story will struggle to keep their blood sugar up. Or they’ll have to stop a long journey to fish in radioactive waters. Those kinds of things are probably the least interesting bits of the book on their own. Except that it’s part of being a human, and it could be the thing your audience understands the fastest.

I don’t know many people who would say, “I really connected with that bit where the hero slashed at the troll with her broadsword.” But lacking water makes that character believable. Everyone has been thirsty.

Now, don’t just throw it in there. Show us the thirst. Show us that they need it to survive. Give me a reason to want that character to get the water and I’ll care about most of what they have on their agenda.

And if you have something that isn’t human, it works the same way. Let’s take the easy way out and say the character is a robot. Now, that robot needs to be more human-like in order for the audience to connect with it. Make it crave oil. I know it’s a bit “Tin Man”, but it’s true. How much quicker did you identify the Tin Man as a character because he just needed some oil? Your brain equated it to a base need for food, and you just understood it.

The lion works, too. Or Scrat from Ice Age, who really just wanted that acorn. Even the Jawas in Star Wars who just wanted to sell droids to save up for retirement. Okay, maybe not the Jawas.

But you get the point. Personification shouldn’t just stop at a surface level. We’re humans, and we want to see something human in the characters you want us to love. If you want us to hate a character, sever that tie with humanity.

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