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Core Needs

In your work, you must have some kind of idea of what you are offering to the public, even if you are still in the planning stage. You should at least have a notion of whether you have written or want to write a Comedy or an Epic, or a Tragedy or an Irony.

Perhaps you want your epic fantasy to rival Tolkien’s or George R. R. Martin’s and have some idea of the sense of wonder you want to leave readers with.

Maybe you are imagining a romantic novel which you would like to emotionally grip readers while also stretching the boundaries of the genre.

Possibly you have in mind a grand tragedy with the fall of a great figure prompting introspection in a range of readers.

Or you might have a collection of short horror stories in mind, designed to produce shock and a sense of nightmare.

In each case, large or small, the engine that drives the story will be its core need. The mechanics of what that need is exactly, and how it works to attract readers to your tale, are described in great detail in How Stories Really Work and the e-course How to Write Stories That Work and Get them Published. But your first task as a writer is to determine which core idea you are going to use.

If you are burning to write a particular story or set of stories, and already have a clear idea of what you are going to write, then you will still benefit from clarifying what these core needs will be.

When you first established your work, or first made plans to do so, you probably had an idea of what your main ‘message’ would be. To be truly effective, though, you need to go 'back to the drawing board' to some degree - but in an exciting and very positive way. This is the beginning of escalating your work into a higher realm of meaning and satisfaction.

If you have an existing piece of fiction, or a rough plan for one, you need to list what you think its core needs are. What is it about?

The Lord of the Rings’ core need is the struggle between the forces of life and death. It’s an Epic because the forces of Life win, though not without some loss.

Macbeth’s core need is the conflict between the protagonist’s conscience and temptation. It’s a Tragedy because he loses.

Great Expectations is driven by the core need of Pip for satisfaction and love. It’s an Irony because it’s not at all clear at the end of the novel that this vacuum is filled.

Pride and Prejudice has at its heart the need for romantic fulfilment, which comes with the social benefits of marriage in this case, as this is a Romance, fitting into the genre of Comedy. The union of Elizabeth and Darcy fills the core need.

All the other techniques of the stories above are designed to attract and hold enough readers or audience so that they ‘buy’ the core needs.

Take your existing fiction or idea and examine it closely. What are its core needs? Then ask, how could those be expanded into something bigger, deeper, better, wider, more powerful or more valuable?

Your key question is:

'How can I take my existing core needs and dramatically add meaning to them?'

Look at the needs that your work already seeks to fill. Are there bigger needs associated with those? Are there connected needs? Are there areas of need which, with some work and adjustments, you could tap into?

For example, C. S. Lewis’s story The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe could have been a simple chase story, good versus evil, with some fighting and so on. But, by adding in layers of meaning, by creating a religious allegory, or simply by tapping into basic needs to do with life, death and morality, Lewis created a long-lasting children’s classic.

The entire Star Wars saga could have been a ‘Western in space’, a shoot-out between two-dimensional good guys and shallow, typical bad guys, like many of its imitators. What gave it depth and resonance was the basic needs that were tapped into through mentions of the cosmic ‘Force’, the character gaps associated with Luke’s father, and so on. Star Wars continues to grow today not because it was a yarn about heroes and villains, but because it tapped into something deeper.

Without working on this, your work as a writer may be wasted by being too superficial.


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