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I Want You, I Need You

Ah, Christmas. Is there any time of the year that elicits such an incredible range of conflicting emotions? We love it, we hate it, we threaten to run away to a deserted tropical island off the coast of Amalfi and bury our heads in the sand until it’s over. Every year, various members of my family ask what they should buy me for Christmas. Which should be a relatively simple question. If nothing else, there’s always a book I’m dying to read.

But here’s the catch: do I ask for what I want, or what I need?

I want one of these:

I need one of these:

So which way do I go? Frivolous but fun? Sensible but boring? I have to say, I have never regretted the year I dragged my husband down the housewares aisle of WalMart, found the shelf with the high end KitchenAid mixers and said, “THIS ONE.” A week later when he went back to buy it, the woman who wrapped it sighed wistfully. “I wish my husband would buy me something like this.” And my husband said, “Let me explain how it works…”

But I also loved the year he surprised me with a diamond ring to replace the wedding ring I’d broken a few weeks earlier. Even though he spent more than he should have and we could have used the money to refinish the walls in the spare room that used to be two rooms before I got an urge to do some home improvement.

Hmm. I wonder if he’ll buy me another ring this year to replace that second one I broke? And now that I’ve mentioned it, I’m thinking it’s a good thing I’m not as hard on husbands as I am wedding rings.

This whole concept of wants versus needs has been on my mind because I’ve been doing some beta reading and critiquing for an amazing writer, and we’ve spent much of the time poking around inside her characters trying to figure out what makes them tick, and I’ve been learning things about my own characters in the process.

One mantra of storytelling says, “Tell me what your character wants. Then tell me why they can’t have it.” I sort of disgree. Not really disagree, but add another layer. Tell me what your character wants. Then tell me what they need. And hallelujah, fling the confetti if those two things are different, because you’ve got yourself a character with some issues, and everybody knows characters with issues are the most fun to torture. Even better if their wants and needs are diametrically opposed, because then you’ve got a character with ISSUES, and you can really inflict some pain.

What could possibly be more entertaining than the character who gets exactly what she wants and ends up miserable? (Yes, Scarlett, I’m looking at you.)

The classic contradiction of wants and needs in romance is the character who’s been badly burned in a previous relationship. Self preservation drives them to keep the world at arm’s length. They want to build a life where they are completely self-reliant and therefore invulnerable. But of course, what they need is security, and real emotional security can only come from a love so deep and unconditional that it heals their scars. Except they can’t achieve that love until they overcome their own desire to avoid the pain of another failed relationship.

Let the games begin.

So what about your favorite characters? Can you think of a movie or a book where a character fought the want versus need battle?  Or even yourself? Do you have a little Want devil on one shoulder, whispering wishes in your ear, while the Need angel on the other side tries to plead her case?

As for our Christmas…my kid has decided he wants a snow cone maker. His mother really needs a few days on that sandy beach, but I’d settle for a good margarita. Lucky for us, we have managed to find the perfect confluence of his wants and my needs.

Cheers.

Kari Lynn Dell – Montana for Real

Hey, all, can’t wait to hear your comments. Due to internet access issues during the day I’ll have to wait until my lunch hour to pop in and chat, but please don’t let that slow you down!

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14 Responses

  1. I would hate to the one trying to buy me a present. I need (basically) nothing. I want very little. I have almost everything I need or want. I’m impossible!

    Parents are buying me a new phone (Droid) because I WANT one, not because I NEED a new phone. My phone is less than 2 years old but (as my husband says), I always WANT new and improved (except when it comes to husbands. I’ll keep the one I have)

    I LOVE the longjohns. Very colorful. 🙂

    Snow cone machine? Can’t you just reach outside your door to scoop up some snow?

    So you need a sandy beach, huh? I think you should come on the 4-day cruise with me in January!

  2. Cyndi,

    I consider myself lucky to be getting as far south as Nashville in January. And it had better be nice when I’m there, or you’ll here the hissy fit all the way out there on your cruise ship.

  3. You show incredible insight in describing my personal dilemma that returns to torment me on an annual basis. Unfortunately you haven’t yet offered a solution in my case. I’m just not fond of sand in my ears or shorts and as for margaritas I would prefer drinking my own bath water.

    Do keep up your research and analysis however as progress you make can certainly benefit millions.

  4. I struggle with this every year. LOL I’d much rather be the one giving the presents than receiving them. Don’t get me wrong, I have lots I want, but then the do I really “need it” battle starts and I talk myself out of everything. Pitiful I know. In the end, I usually end up with a great new pair of PJ’s. 🙂

    The snow cone machine sounds like a winner though. LOL

  5. Oh dear! You mean I’m not alone? “What do you want?” usually leaves me tongue-tied. What do I want? How about a cottage in Yorkshire? Or a big enough travel allowance so I can pop back and forth from England at will (guess I’d stop in Ireland, too) and drop in on the kids in Boston monthly. QUERY: would they love that? Or buy the condo right below us so that we’d have extra space for everyone to sleep when they come here for Christmas, and space for the grand piano I’d get for dh — right. So what do I tell my budget challenged children, and financially realistic spouse?

  6. Wow, it looks like there’s a lot of us out there. I always tell everyone I don’t need anything but when that doesn’t work i usually say a gift card for books. it’s by far the easist thing to ask for.

    Hubs did buy me a new kindle for christmas. it was definitely a WANT, not a need. I have a first generation kindle that works fine but like Cyndi, I want the latest and greatest.

    Giving the gifts and finding just the perfect gift for someone is always my favorite part of Christmas. I love to get gifts too (don’t get me wrong) but we usually buy what we need/want.

    Hubs refuses to buy me kitchen stuff for bdays or xmas, even if I ask/beg for it.

  7. Oh, man. I SO do not fall into the ‘don’t buy me anything’ category. I’ve always got a list a mile long. It’s just deciding whether to go with something I know I’ll use everyday vs. something that’s pretty and fun that gets me in a quandary.

    And now…off to check out flat screen TV’s. LITTLE ones, Liz.

  8. My facebook status yesterday was “Thank God for my Kitchen Aid. That is all.” No lie. Husband and I don’t do presents at all. My birthday is on the twenty third which really stresses everyone out. So I’d go with FUN only ’cause I wish I had some of that over here!!!!!!

  9. Next time you get a new ring get one that is guaranteed for life. Zales does it so I’m sure other places do too.

  10. Er… Am I the only one ’round here who doesn’t know what the heck that top picture is? O_o

  11. Husband has answered this question for me. Keri, that is the strangest looking bracelet I have ever seen. Charles says you have good taste.

  12. SEB: My ring is guaranteed for life. Just not MY life. Apparently, they didn’t design it with roping calves in mind. After the third time I broke off a prong and nearly lost the diamond, I stowed it safely away until I can decide what to do with it.

    Crystal: Somehow I expected that question about the second picture. And it’s copper. I love copper.

  13. Oh dear! You mean I’m not alone? “What do you want?” usually leaves me tongue-tied. What do I want? How about a cottage in Yorkshire? Or a big enough travel allowance so I can pop back and forth from England at will (guess I’d stop in Ireland, too) and drop in on the kids in Boston monthly. QUERY: would they love that? Or buy the condo right below us so that we’d have extra space for everyone to sleep when they come here for Christmas, and space for the grand piano I’d get for dh — right. So what do I tell my budget challenged children, and financially realistic spouse?

  14. My facebook status yesterday was “Thank God for my Kitchen Aid. That is all.” No lie. Husband and I don’t do presents at all. My birthday is on the twenty third which really stresses everyone out. So I’d go with FUN only ’cause I wish I had some of that over here!!!!!!

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