Thursday, March 25, 2010


The two unpublished writing bloggers I've been following the longest, Stephanie Perkins and Kiersten White, have books coming out this year. Both of them mentioned recently that "longing" is an important part of their stories (although Kiersten was referring to a book she's currently writing), and it's gotten me thinking about how "longing" drives a story and even us as individuals.

The difference between a character driven story and a plot driven story (correct me if I'm wrong), is that in a character driven story the character(s) wants something badly enough to go after it. I much prefer these stories to the alternative, so I'm going to list a few popular examples and discuss them with as few spoilers as possible.
Where the Wild Things Are

Max, in WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, longs for adventure, something a little more "wild." Then, when he's had his adventure, he longs "to be where someone loved him best of all." His desires are easy to relate to, especially for his target audience; Sendak's picture book is a classic.

Maltilda longs for a family that will love and understand her, and she longs to learn. I adore all of Roald Dahl's books, but MATILDA is the easiest for me to relate to (though if your longings lean more towards a life-long supply of chocolate or turning evil witches into mice, that's alright by me).
Twilight (The Twilight Saga, Book 1)

In TWILIGHT, Bella longs for Edward and everything that he stands for: ageless beauty, immortality, power, and, in her mind at least, perfection. This is harder for me to relate to because, unlike Bella, I don't see Edward's perfection. But I can understand the appeal: perfection is a worthy goal.

Now that we've talked about character motivations, what do you long for? That's a rather personal question, and I don't expect you to answer (unless you're longing to). But do your longings always motivate you? I know that mine don't. Some of them are counter-productive. For instance, my babies have all been born allergic to chocolate. They grow out of it, but I can't eat chocolate when I'm nursing without seriously distressing my them. Unfortunately, I long to eat chocolate. I dream about eating chocolate. I have nightmares about eating chocolate and causing my babies to projectile vomit. Do I act on this longing? I do not. On the other hand, I love my children and long to have common points of interest with them. I read to them. I play sports with them. I garden with them. I sing with them and encourage them to practice musical instruments. I pray with them, take them to church with them, and explain what's most important to me and why. This is a longing I can and should act upon, but, if I were to force what is important to me on them, that longing would also be counter-productive. I have found that longing tends to lead to obsession, which can be good or bad. Obsession is a driving force. Like Matilda, I long for learning. I longed for a college degree, and I have one. I long for publication as a sort of validation or justification for the time that I spend writing, but, even more than that, I long for time to write. However, I also longed for a family very much like the one I've been blessed with, and I long to spend more time with them. I also long for more sleep. I find my longings at odds with each other, struggling for priority.

Whatever our longings may be, they influence our decisions. One of the most powerful examples in literature is in THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX, by Kate DiCamillo.

The Tale of Despereaux

I do not cry easily, but there are two parts in this book that get me every time. I'm tearing up just thinking about them. The first part has little to do with this post, but when the princess asks Miggery Sow what she wants, that has everything to do with it. Dang. I'm crying. If you haven't read this book, you should read it. If you have, feel free to guess the other part that made me cry.


  1. Wow - fascinating post! I hate books that make me cry, so I probably won't be reading Tale of Despereaux anytime soon. Of course I long to be published, but I also long for time just to write. I feel lucky to have something I feel so passionate about.

  2. Beautiful post, Myrna.

    I long for the time when I was writing my first (post-college) book. There was no "quest for publication," no internet (we were still operating in college mode, where there were always bunches of computer labs with free internet connections). There was just me and the most exciting book idea I'd had in years, the one that brought me out of my college dearth. And the sunrise, which greeted me every morning as I wrote while my baby slept.

  3. I will have to go and read Despereaux now. Very well-written post, Myrna. :)

  4. I'm a bloggy fan of Steph & Kiersten. They rock!

    I had to check out your blog because "Night writer" is exactly what I do most nights (I have 4 youngish kids and it's the only sane time for me to write!!).

    I'm looking forward to revisiting your blog again!

  5. Now I have to clarify. THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX doesn't make me miserable; I cry because those two parts are so beautiful, and because I relate to what the characters are going through. The book might not make you cry, Susan. Somebody had to ask poor Mig what she wanted, and what she wants is part of what makes me cry.

    That sounds very romantic, Krista. I love the idea of being in love with a story just to be in love with it. I caught the "need to be published" bug in high school when I edited the high school newspaper. I wrote for the Las Vegas Review Journal and the Desert Valley Times as a correspondence reporter, but the paper there in Mesquite was the only one that paid me. They didn't know I was a teenager. The RJ gave me a nice plaque though.

    Thanks, Rorie, and yes, please do.

    Terresa, Steph and Kiersten high five! I only have three kiddos, but I hate getting jolted out of the story, and then I feel guilty about feeling that way. Revising isn't quite as bad. Anywho, I love your hair. Thanks for visiting!

  6. This is such an interesting post to me--because I actually had a hard time reading Tale of Desperaux. I think it's mostly because I expected it to be something it wasn't, but I had a very different reaction to the text. Reading your take on it makes me want to go back an re-read it, though!

  7. Yeah, reading is such an individual thing, isn't it? I wasn't sure I'd like it because the narrator was so intrusive, but it worked for me. Thanks for commenting, Beth. I'm excited to read your books when they come out.

  8. I love books that touch something so deep inside that cause me to laugh out loud or to cry.

    I agree about the longing...sometimes wistful, sometimes palpable.....but there nonetheless.

    Thoughtful post.


  9. Myrna, I think Blogger ate my comment on this last week. So I'll try again:

    I love stories that have longing too. The more palpable the better. The more I want to push the two things together so that they can have each other, the better.

    Longing is a good device I have not thought of in awhile consciously. Thank you for reminding me! I think recognizing it will really help me in my WIP.

  10. Shelley, you said that perfectly. I love books that make me laugh and cry. Thank you.

    Jackee, Blogger eats my comments sometimes, too. ;) I'm glad you found something useful.