Making Your Characters Feel Feelings: Desire #writewednesday

As a romance author, I write about desire all the time. The passion and craving commonly associated with this emotion is an essential component of a successful romance story.

However, sexual hunger is only one way to that humans are ruled by desire. In my opinion, desire is the strongest emotion. It’s weighty and it can bring to mind something romantic, dramatic, tragic—whatever the circumstances, it’s almost always something the character deems important. That sense of longing for a person, object or outcome is at the center of every story.


Desire: a strong feeling of wanting to have something or wishing something would happen. 

Desire is the motivation that makes your character to take action toward achieving that person or thing that they desire. Psychologists like Hobbes asserted that the fundamental motivation of all human action is the desire for pleasure. While others believe that desire is almost like a prison of emotion that traps us in a human body that is always wanting or needing something.

I think both of these things are true.

When you’re crafting a character, the words desire and goal are one in the same, and reaching their goal is the source of your character’s motivation.

In The Basic Character Creation Workbook, I talk about how the best character goals have a sense of urgency. The character must be willing to make sacrifices to obtain it. That desire may put them in danger or it may be unachievable. Either way, the journey to that goal will reveal the big truth that they need to face. 

Abraham Maslow believed that are five categories of human desire. The best goals are rooted in these five categories.

1. Physiological needs are basic needs for human survival. These are needs that must be met first because you really can’t get much done without them. In fact, if these needs are not met, death is certain.

  • Breathing

  • Water

  • Food

  • Sleep

  • Clothing

  • Shelter

2. Safety needs take precedence after physiological needs are met. Safety and security needs are about keeping you character from harm. If they don’t feel safe, they will seek safety before they attempt to meet any higher levels of survival.

  • Personal security

  • Financial security

  • Health & well-being

  • Safety from accidents, illness, and adverse situations.

3. The need for social belonging evolves from a desire for community and family. This need is strong in childhood and feelings of being othered, can affect your character’s ability to forge and maintain emotionally significant relationships. 

  • Friendship

  • Intimacy

  • Family

4. Esteem is an ego or status based need. It is rooted in the human desire to feel accepted, valued, and respected by others. Low self-esteem and inferiority can result from lack or imbalance of this need.

  • Status

  • Recognition

  • Fame

  • Prestige

  • Attention

  • Self-respect

  • Strength

  • Competence

  • Independence

5. Self-actualization refers to a person’s full potential and the realization of that potential. Like the Army slogan, your character wants to be all that they can be. 

  • Creativity

  • Morality

  • To be considered without prejudice

  • Travel and experience

  • Higher education

How do you write this emotion?

The most fundamental desires are labeled as “deficiency needs.” Those are the needs that fall under physiological, safety, and esteem. If the needs aren’t met, there may not always be a physical indication, but your character will always feel tense, anxious, and preoccupied by the need to obtain it. Also, they won’t be able to focus on their other desires until those needs are met. 

One of the best ways I have found to write desire is to conjure this emotion in myself. Imagine the absence of that desire in your life and write about the space that is left behind. For example, if you take away or threaten any of your character’s deficiency needs, you basically men to cause them physical harm, mental harm, or death. They will do anything to have those needs met—lie, steal, kill, betray. A character in this situation will feel like they have no choice but to react. To put it simply, a character in this situation would be ready and gunning for a fight. 

As an emotion, desire of any kind almost always creates empathy in the reader and makes the character feel real.