This is the phrase I mentally yell at my brain when I'm learning something new. It doesn't really work, but I keep yelling it anyway. The learning comes in the application for me--always. Sometimes it comes after multiple applications. So when I learned about Martine Leavitt's Mechanics of Desire from my friend Heather Clark I thought my world had completely changed. She basically states that you need to know, from the start of your story, the desires of each character--especially the protagonist. You need to know their emotional desire as well as their concrete desire. If you want to read more about the concept (which you should, because it's brilliant and makes writing so much easier), follow the link to Heather's blog and read all about it.
I've been writing a novel, still writing a novel, the same novel I've been writing for two years now. Of course, each time I tackle it, the novel completely changes. You know why? Because I have never figured out my characters and what they want. I think I've got it, but I don't. I'm so close--but I'm never quite there. So I decided to scale back a little and start with a simple picture book that I've been stuck on for a few months. The writing and images are beautiful. My characters, Billy and Penelope, and the conflict they face, are unique. However the story itself ran into a storm and I started writing about the rain instead of the characters. I couldn't move forward. Penelope was running around with a boat over her head and Billy was cowering under a porch. The storm had too much power and the characters couldn't win. Can you guess what I did then? Yep! I stopped writing it.
After applying the Mechanics of Desire I figured out that the storm didn't matter, it was just background to what Billy wanted--HIS desires. So now that I've figured that out, I have to bring the focus back around to Billy and allow the rain to do what it will. Billy has purpose, desires, announced strategies, and conflict every step of the way. Even in a picture book, this type of determination will help move the story forward. I am excited to write again. I think that if I can meaningfully apply this concept in a small setting, I may be able to do so in a larger one as well. I can guarantee I'm not done mentally yelling at myself, but even small wins like this are super helpful. There's much more learning to do!