07/19/2010 05:05 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Making of a Novel: What Does Your Character Want?

Over the weekend, I asked a writer friend to read a two-page summary of my new book and the first fledgling pages I wrote. I told her I was looking for a "plane flying over the landscape" analysis of how the story looked to her. There are two really important points in this simple act:

1.) It's good to have writer friends. This particular friend, Lisa Cron, is a colleague of mine at the UCLA Extension Writers' Program. She teaches a course, among others, called "Inside Story" and she is one of the smartest people I know on the topic of what a story really is and how the good ones work. She teaches online, so anyone can benefit from her wisdom -- and writing classes, whether online or in person are great ways to meet writer friends of your own. To find a good class, check out your local university to see if they offer any extension classes, or go online and check out Media Bistro, Writers' Digest Online University, or Learning Annex.

2.) Ask for what you want. I happen to know that Lisa Cron could spend four weeks making notes on five pages -- not because she's slow, but because she's thorough. I'm not ready for thorough. I just want to know if the simple skeleton I've sketched for my story is working, and because I asked for what I wanted, I got it.

So Lisa comes back to me with three pages of notes (single spaced, mind you), which cover all kinds of things, but which mostly force me to ask myself one key question:

What does this character want?

Turns out, it wasn't particularly clear, and I can't move forward unless I know, really know what my character wants. My character doesn't necessarily have to know, but I do. And the truth is that I have no clue. So that's my job in the next few days: to figure out what this character -- it's the daughter -- really wants.

Here are some great blogs on this topic in case you don't believe me about the importance of this question: