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Is character want and desire the same thing?

Could a character have a want and a desire? (if yes could you provide an example?) It's just I've been reading articles on these things lately and not sure if they are they same thing just termed differently, or if they are two separate things. Looking up the meanings of the two words they seemed to basically mean the same thing.

Thanks for clearing this up for me (hopefully lol)
 

Svrtnsse

Staff
Article Team
I think want and desire are pretty similar as far as basic meaning goes. It reminds me of something else though, and it may very well be it's the same thing, but with just slightly different phrasing - want and need.

Let's say our character has a goal, and that the goal is happiness.
The character believes that in order to become happy, he has to own the greatest castle in all the lands, so that's what he wants. Once he gets what he wants he'll be happy.
In reality, it's not the castle that will make the character happy, but rather the ability to bake the worlds tastiest cupcakes. So in order to get happy, the character needs to learn to make the best cupcakes.

Or, to be less silly:
Want, is what the character thinks they need in order to achieve their goal.
Need, is what they actually need.

A character's want and need can be the same, but it probably makes for a more interesting story (and character) if they aren't. Often a character is pretty certain of what their want is, but have no idea what their need is.
 
Thanks. Want and need were easy to understand and get. When reading about want and need they referred to it as want. Yet when I researched about want on it's own all I could find was desires instead. So I wasn't sure. After your example, maybe they aren't the same thing.

Want - to own the castle
desire - happiness

That means goal and desire are the same thing? Ahhhhhhhhh My brain hurts
 
This can go either way, the important thing is that what the character wants is different than what they need. Or at least most stories work better this way.
 
Here's a bit from An American dictionary of the English language

desire-wanted.jpg


As I see it, desire is what we feel, whereas want is something that is needed or missing.
"This delicious cake, which I desire in the extreme, I want you to eat it!"
 
As I see it, desire is what we feel, whereas want is something that is needed or missing.
"This delicious cake, which I desire in the extreme, I want you to eat it!"

I love this explanation and example.

The difficulty occurs when what is desired/wanted is abstract or unclear.

So take "want you to eat it." That's an event that hasn't happened yet. So the speaker "lacks" that event; it's needed or missing.

But why does he desire the cake? Really, he wants to eat it himself. This is another event that hasn't happened yet. We could rephrase the statement like this: "This delicious cake, which I want in the extreme, I desire you to eat it!"

So the words can seem nearly synonymous.

Of course, we don't know the context of the conversation. For me, "want" is more colloquial, and "desire" is a little more exotic; for this reason, the latter seems to stress its point more than the former.
 

skip.knox

toujours gai, archie
Moderator
Are people asking for words to mean the same thing in every usage? We are speaking English here, folks. *ahem* We may want, need, and desire consistency, but it's a fool's dream.

Curiously, there is some separation when it comes to romance. Telling the other person you want them is a little different from saying you need them, which is one reason why both words pop up in songs regularly. And one can speak of the object of one's desire, but it sounds off to speak of the object of one's want.

English. The world's longest-running inside joke. Not least because the people for whom it's named had very little to do with it.
 

R.H. Smith

Minstrel
I take it as:

Want - what you OPENLY desire
Desire - what you SECRETLY desire

If you look at the human psyche (i'm no psychologist but I tend to study peoples traits, mannerisms and such to see how I can integrate that into my chars) most, if not everyone will openly and out loud voice what they want...I want a million dollars! With desire, I think it's a more base, instinctual thing, something that is not openly voiced out loud as that desire can get you in trouble...I desire my neighbor's wife. I know not everything is black and white, but some things need to be spelled out that way in order to for it to be more properly quantified. Hope this helps!
 
WANT suggests immediate action; if someone wants a cookie, they expect to get it now. I wondered a bit why this is so, and I think the reason is that WANT is something that is missing or lacking, an imbalance of sorts. This can be seen in older writing, where the word was used less rigidly than today:

The fuchsia-fairies declared they knew of the loveliest little fuchsia-bud which was in want of some one to take care of it: it would really be a charity if the Princess would live there.
— Fairies I Have Met

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
— Pride and Prejudice

"At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge," said the gentleman, taking up a pen, "it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir."
— A Christmas Carol​
 

Penpilot

Staff
Article Team
Try not to get caught up in the terminology. In writing theory, there can be different names for the same thing, and the same word can be used to mean two different things.What's important is the concepts those terms represent and understanding them.

For me, I think of character wants/desires/goals like this:

1- there's the external/physical want - the most obvious goal in the story - eg defeat the Empire/Destroy the DeathStar. It's success is meaningful to the most people, a kingdom, a planet, a galaxy.

2- there's the emotional want - it's the want that your hero and those around them feel in their hearts.- eg rescue the princess. It's success is meaningful only to those who are around the hero, Ben, Han, Chewi, R2, C3PO.

3- there's the spiritual want - it's something your hero wants, whether they know it or not, something unfulfilled within themselves - eg find connection to family by becoming a Jedi/pilot like his father. It's success is only meaningful to the hero.

And these wants can shift and change as the story progresses and your characters change. Sometimes, 2 and 3 can be intertwined an be one and the same.
 

LadyErynn

Dreamer
Want = short-term (he wants to defeat the king)
Desire = long-term (so there may be peace)

That's how I see it, anyway.
 

pmmg

Istar
I would have thought these words to be interchangeable. I am surprised ppl have found so much difference in them. I do enjoy words more when they have a unique and precise meaning so i would be pleased if there was a subtle difference but I think mostly these could be subbed one for the other, the best choice decided by tone and voice.
 

Insolent Lad

Maester
We're talking denotation versus connotation here, maybe, something my high school English teacher drilled into me several epochs ago. Denotation, the dictionary definition; connotation, all the nuances and associations that cling to a word—which well may vary from individual to individual.
 
I am wondering for how many people there was an actual difference between the two words before the question was asked.

The action of asking the question means that people start thinking about the difference. And they then come up with a difference just to be able to answer the question, even if originally there was little or no difference for them. It's almost quantum mechanics, the act of measuring changes that which is measured. ;)
 

R.H. Smith

Minstrel
I am wondering for how many people there was an actual difference between the two words before the question was asked.

The action of asking the question means that people start thinking about the difference. And they then come up with a difference just to be able to answer the question, even if originally there was little or no difference for them. It's almost quantum mechanics, the act of measuring changes that which is measured. ;)

I know this is not part of the thread, but i would like to reply. Even before this question, yes, personally the two words held and continue to hold differing connotations. In terms of denotation, i find them both interchangeable. Connotation-wise, they couldn't be farther from each other.
 

pmmg

Istar
I know this is not part of the thread, but i would like to reply. Even before this question, yes, personally the two words held and continue to hold differing connotations. In terms of denotation, i find them both interchangeable. Connotation-wise, they couldn't be farther from each other.

I would like to know what you see as the difference in connotation.

I want her.
I desire her.

I have wanted that for a long time.
I have desired that for a long time.

That is the object of my desire.
This the object I want.

I am not saying there is no difference, but I think mostly there isn't. It feels to me to be mostly a choice of what fits better with the tone I would like to set.
 
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