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The inner want of control

How does Will Storr's discussion of control affect a character's inner want?

David Gane
David Gane
1 min read

One more lesson from Will Storr’s The Science of Storytelling.

The early part of the book explores how people develop a flawed model of the world because of imperfections in our perception and cognition.

However, there is a problem. This flawed model is how we interact with the world:

As wrong as we are, we rarely question the reality our brains conjure for us. It is, after all, our ‘reality.’ As well as this, the hallucination is functional. Each one of the tiny beliefs that make up our neural model is a little instruction that tells our brain how the outside world works: this is how you open a stuck jam jar lid; this is how you lie to a police officer; this is how you behave if you want your boss to believe you’re a useful, sane and honest employee. These instructions make our environment predictable. They make it controllable. Taken in sum, the vastly intricate web of beliefs can be seen as the brain’s “theory of control’. It’s this theory of control that’s often challenged at the story’s start.

Control is a want. It may be one of the deep underlying internal wants that our characters seek. It supersedes happiness or avoidance of pain because how do we find either of those things without control?

And as Storr points out, it is the source of our beliefs—whether they are positive, negative, accurate, or flawed.

So when considering your character and what they want within your story, find what they seek to control. Perhaps it is themselves, their lives, or others. Or it is more abstract, like how they love, or someone loves them. And how is it flawed, and how can it be improved?

David Gane Twitter

Co-writer of the Shepherd and Wolfe young adult mysteries, the internationally award-winning series, and teacher of storytelling and screenwriting.