From a World Without Need
Imagine a state of existence in which there is no need of any kind.
Rather than being motivated by need, attention floats freely - not even pulled tidally, like the sea is by the Moon. Without Need to draw it hither or thither, one can imagine that it lies static and waveless - but who is to say what other motivations might exist in such a state? Not Need, but perhaps simply Joy or some other determining force for which we have no name?
Into or over this scenario comes a moon, a source of motivation we can perhaps recognise: something which pulls attention one way or another. And soon that formless sea has form: some of it flows one way, and some another. This gives rise to what we might call ‘identity’, the idea that there is a belonging to one party or flow rather than another. Identity creates a universe, which could be defined as that zone which is ‘not another zone’.
Within a universe, the process repeats itself: part of that space splits off from another part. A game of sorts begins, with a vying for position between divided parts, and that could lead to something resembling ‘Life’.
Within Life, the same thing happens: needs arise, pulling things together and apart. The multiplicity which results we have called species and their interactions we have named an ecology. And within a species the same pattern is repeated again until the thing we call human society develops along lines which we recognise: the jockeying of factors, some supportive, some destructive, that work to create an ongoing complex motion. The original Identity which emerged at the root of it all may have tracked this process all the way down to the performance of a unit called the ‘individual’.
Fiction mirrors this descent from above, may even be an echo of it.
From out of formlessness comes an idea; an idea brings forth identity or character. The word ‘character’ comes from the Greek kharaktēr ‘a stamping tool’. From its early sense ‘distinctive mark’ arose ‘token, feature, or trait’ in the early 16th century, and from this ‘a description, especially of a person's qualities’, giving rise to ‘distinguishing qualities’. The key point here is that the qualities are distinguished or separated from the rest.
Then the forces within a story are either with a particular character, aligned to the same purposes and needs, or not. And so we get the complex fabric of a story by following the same pattern which has given rise to reality around us.