In trying to get my head around this aspect of character development I began to ponder on the difference between these two words. According to the Oxford dictionary Need, as a noun, is 1.something needed: a necessary thing. 2. a situation where something is necessary. 3 great poverty or hardship. Must as a noun is a thing that should not be missed. To me, must is something that can be done without, but should not be, however, not yet feeling a real difference, I put aside the dictionary and came up with a question to clarity the context. If one needs to accomplish something, how is that different from one who must accomplish something?
Must is a word that strikes rebellion into some hearts or a slavish submission to an action, not desired, in others. Our characters usually have a mixture of both. In romance the desire to fulfill a need is always accompanied by a set of perceived must do actions that can even go against the character's conscience. A Heroine who seeks to fill an emotional need might go about achieving that through a series of musts. I must keep grandma in the only home she’s ever loved. I must complete a job and win a promotion in order to have a sense of security in my life. The must they have identified is perceived by them the only way they can achieve their aim. Keeping grandma safe may involve receiving help from others. However the heroine believes she is alone and can rely on nobody else. The books I love most are the ones where the author seems to understand this process very well and we find the character’s development arc includes a reassessing of the musts as the characters find another more healthy way to meet their need for emotional connection to themselves and therefore an ability to connect with another. In a romance this often includes a hero and heroine who have this journey. The alpha hero is often expressed as a man who’s world is driven by musts. His needs are often unrecognized until the heroine sweeps into his world and turns his musts on their head. Often the same applies to independent proactive heroines.
Need is a word that calls to action. Why do we will ourselves to fill a need? Where does the sense of the imperative come from when something is made a must? Is making yourself complete an action a must situation? Do we really know what we need? The author needs to know what the character’s true need is in order to create a satisfying journey. The reader needs to know at some point also but the character usually doesn't know until a crisis occurs and the illusion of the must is swept away and the real need is revealed.
This is what I want for the characters in the books I enjoy reading. There's a chain reaction taking place in a great story when it is dealing with the need aspect. It's a positive experience to embrace a character striving to fill a real need. A vicarious sense of achievement and satisfaction in the book is the outcome when they finally find the way to do it.
Questions I’m asking myself, at the moment, which I have found helpful in editing completed manuscripts as well as in creating new stories are; what does your character need right now? What circumstances will help my characters to identity their true need and change their lives for the better? For example: an alpha hero whose journey is from rejecting relationships to wanting a relationship has initially created a must of living in isolation from love to feel emotionally safe. Enter heroine who needs to understand her own value but has created a must of obtaining recognition from others. Each has to journey from feeling isolated and unfulfilled to being connected to themselves and possessing an awareness of their true needs and meeting them. I believe only then can the reader be convinced that this couple can be happy together for the long term and feel a genuine sense of satisfaction when they finally make a commitment to be together for real.