When a person has a purpose, they move through their day with determination. You can tell a person with purpose just by watching the way they walk. They’ve got somewhere to be, and some reason to be going there.
Characters are the same way. Characters with a purpose move through the story faster than characters who’ve just been placed there by you as the Author/Director. This can be surprisingly difficult to do, especially since you probably start out with a great idea about these characters…uh, doing something.
For the longest time, I wrote straight-up romances–the romantic conflict was the main plot, and the only plot. It’s a huge challenge to push characters in a romantic story apart, but do it you must, because once they’re together, the story’s all but over. Of course, you can’t keep ’em apart, because without their interaction, there’s no story to begin with. But it takes a deft hand to walk the fine line of push and pull. But even without the intervention of external subplots, your characters must have motivation. Something needs to drive them; they need purpose.
I’m currently struggling with a character who’s got no purpose. He’s a very lovable sort–a good guy dealt a really weird hand. He’s not been coping well, but all that’s about to change. What I’m struggling with is exactly how that will change. A catalyst, or inciting incident that will give him purpose. Purpose which I can then derail.
When characters have purpose, they have wants and needs. They have drive that directs them, and from that drive and those wants, they have consequences to experience both with achieving their desires and not achieving them. From those consequences, conflict is born. Characters with purpose are the ones I devour, and the ones I care about writing. If this character doesn’t present me with a purpose soon, there might be words.