We had a good discussion in our Goldsmiths workshop this week regarding character.
It was said that one of the things all characters need is desire. They need to want something. As Vonnegut said, even if it's only a glass of water, they need to want something.
I explained how I'd always struggled with this idea. Having a preference for realist fiction, I can't always see how there is a clearly defined 'want' in my life that drives what I do.
A great point was made that there is a big difference between people and characters. Characters serve specific functions within the story. They are there for the story.
And also that 'want' doesn't have to be a massive over-arching thing in the narrative. In Claire Keegan's story Antarctica, the protagonist wants to have an affair, but then throughout the story, she wants to go to a bar, wants to follow the man she meets, and wants to take a bath - her wants continually prompt action and subsequent story.
My own writing so often doesn't contain enough wants and therefore not enough action. I think I need to drastically re-think my understanding of desire in writing because without it I'm never going to accomplish stories that have any conflict or drama.