Every story told comes down to the most basic of themes:
Characters attempting to fulfill wants and needs.
(My wife actually personified the difference between a want and a need when she related her eighth Christmas telling her parents: I want a record player, but I need a wagon.)
I went searching for inspiration along this line of thinking (story telling themes) and I happened to stumble upon a comment about Lord of the Rings. It’s not exactly related to this theme of character wants and needs but, it explains common plots so well that I wanted to share it:
Thomas Munch: “I think some of the best stories have a mix of all basic plots – Lord of the Rings is a good example:
- Overcoming the Monster (Kill Sauron, Saruman , Orcs etc.)
- Rags to Riches (Aragorn to King)
- Quest (Destroy Ring)
- Voyage and Return (Mount Doom and home again)
- Comedy (Hobbits dialogue)
- Tragedy (Dead of Boromir)
- Rebirth (The Rohan king, the transformation of Gollum)
- Mystery (Is Frodo’s ring the One?)
- Rebellion against the one (Fight against Sauron)”
Considering each of those plot concepts, every one (perhaps excluding Comedy & Tragedy) exposes that simple tenet: Stories are about characters’ wants and needs.
As I continue my WIP: A Touch of Red (a post-apocalyptic tale of a fallout illness that changes people genetically,) I’m trying to imagine it in various plot lights. But as the quote above illustrates, many plot themes can be applied to stories. So, really, post-analysis of any story might expose the the fact that stories fit many plot concepts and that the focus should be on the character’s fulfillment path of their desires and their essential needs.
Force a character to need something out of their grasp, instill in them wants that conflict or divert them from fulfilling that need and fill the page describing the tension between them.