The Omniway of Want and Need
On want vs need, building audience (YES), and universal truths
Greetings! I dare to republish this old essay1 of mine because I reckon it’s still decent. Hope you enjoy it!
bye bye ya’ve a splendidious day!
💡DISCLAIMER: I must mention upfront that Echoes of None never offers you life or writing advice. Your common sense is at risk. If you see somebody on the internet is offering you these types of advice, it's likely scam. Verify your sources of information.
There is a difference between what we WANT and what we NEED. The difference is semantical, philosophical, spiritual, social, and many more '-al's. Delusions, mimetic desires, memes, social pressure, including the ones imposed by peers and the media, FOMO, etm. are all around us and, whether you deny that or not, they define a good deal of our actions. “Wants”, in this case, are mostly external and based on simple principles: everyone wants something, you want and I want. Such as:
—I should keep up or I will be left behind.
—I want to be successful and achieve everything.
—I want to be cooler than that guy over there.
—My parents said that I should do this.
—I saw an ad online a hundred of times and now I want to buy this.
—Money, I want money. Monies gud. Much gud indeed.
… and etm.
I don't want to talk about how and why we want things — there are people who are versed in that way better than me — I only want to outline how I see the difference between NEED and WANT, ponder on how this relates to storytelling and give some examples…
Example №1, from real life.
Felicia2 (a completely and unconditionally random character, random enough that she may or may not exist at all, or both at the same time depending on how you look at it3; nevertheless, all coincidences with real persons are coincidental) wants many subscribers on Substack, but there are none to be found. They don't come, they don't want to. What to do? The answer is mundanely simple:
Idiosyncratically, seek no simple solution does Felicia, instead she decides to bargain her innermost self to one of the unseen entities dominating the noösphere, for why not? Why not?4 If there’s something to sell for the highest price possible, with the highest ROI, one can’t find anything better than one’s innermost self. She obtains an arcane grimoire filled with obscure words and symbols, assembled into absurd but effective spells, and begins to chant them online. Now, Felicia is dead behind the eyes but she has won, subscribers seem to come, yet, somehow, still not enough. Felicia wants more.
Felicia's problem is that wanting to achieve something isn't enough. She needs something else to accomplish the goal, something of which she's not aware (yet). That’s Felicia’s problem. Felicia's goal is unattainable until she understands what her core weakness is, and Felicia's weakness is that she is no writer, no artist, or, touch wood, c*ntent creator5. Felicia wants subscribers because she saw some successful comrade's Substack (for example) with a huge audience and decided she wants it too, but alas, she didn't realise that the comrade’s followers are not the cause of his success, but rather a consequence. There are exceptions of course, but these are quite degenerate cases and if I may, I will not consider them (although I don’t mind being
In that example, Felicia’s desires are external and can be either conscious or subconscious (or unconscious [or metaconscious]), but at the same time, her innermost self needs something else, something entirely different. Unfortunately, it is easier to understand it retrospectively (sometimes post mortem). At one moment, Felicia may realise that she is exactly where she needs to be, even though she did not intend to arrive there and did not want to be there at all. Paradox, innit? The inexplicable secret of the universe.
Example №2, from literature (SPOILERS AHEAD).
In Neil Gaiman's novel Neverwhere, Richard Mayhew, a perfectly ordinary office plankton with a perfectly stable job, an unstable relationship, and all those things empathogenic characters tend to have, finds himself in a new world, a parallel magical London, quite by accident. His real-life is shattered. He no longer exists in his real reality, and now he has no choice but to help his new friends in their magical reality. So, together they get into different adventures, go through serious challenges, and all the while our hero wants to escape that world, to return to his old boring life, boring but familiar, devoid of dangers. At the end of the novel, he receives that opportunity, but after obtaining what he has wanted for so long, he understands that what he really needed all the time was an adventure, and he decides to stay in the magical world6.
This kind of internal conflict is a huge topic in storytelling, especially in Western literary tradition. The main characters often have desires and needs, clearly understandable for the audience but, which is crucial, not for the character.
For example, Chinatown, Jake, like the other detectives, wants to solve the case, but to do so he needs to learn to trust people and stop using them.
Or Verdict (1982). Frank, once a successful, now a drunken advocate, as in all courtroom dramas, wants to win the case. What he really needs to do that is regain his self-respect first.
Or Star Wars, Luke wants to defeat Darth Vader — pardon the spoiler — his father, but to do so he needs to overcome his fear and anger or he will slide down (or up, depends whether you’re a Sith or Jedi) to the dark side.
… and on and on and on and on, bla bla bla — A LOT of stories have that at their core.
See, need and desire are often bounded, and need is often responsible for the main weakness of a character. Without overcoming their weakness, achieving the goal is impossible.
This is by no means advice on how plots should be constructed but rather an observation that sometimes works, sometimes doesn't. Can it make your (life) story better?
When it does work, it works because it’s universal. We experience the same kind of torment many times throughout our lives. We want to write the best novel of the 21st century, but we need to write regularly, write a lot of bad stuff and maybe write some better stuff in the end. We want a good career but need family and support. We want to comprehend universal wisdom, but need to sign up for my newsletter using this beaconing button below. We want a new laptop or app, hoping to become more productive, but in fact, we need skills and discipline. We want to build muscle, but we need regular exercise and diet. We want attention to our personas, trying on different masks, while we just need to be ourselves. We want to want, but first, we need to figure out what to want (yes). Which, of course, is not that easy to do as to say.
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With some stylistic edits.
Felix Futzbucker’s quantum sis.
Well, of course she does exist, but whenever you look for her, you can’t find her. Such a paradoxical creature she is.
You may have a list of good reasons but keep it for yourself. Felicia doesn’t listen. She’s behind the screen and wherever the plot is going in this paragraph, you can’t change it. It’s not a video game (even there you can’t REALLY change the plot).
An ancient term once used to describe anyone who could make something out of nothing.
Please forgive me if I've twisted the details of the book, I read it quite a while ago.