I was talking (via email) to a friend the other day, who made an off-hand comment about craving something salty, like chips.
When I replied back, I told her about a random grocery-store-craving I had last week, y'know, when you see something, and suddenly you have to have it.
In my case, it was an interesting cheese in the deli... Guinness marbled aged cheddar. Sounds freaking awesome, right? Well, it was, especially with a baguette, slices of green apple, red wine, and a couple of other accompanying cheeses.
I don't eat a lot of dairy, and (since my liver doesn't break stuff down properly) I don't eat a lot of refined carbs, like bread & pasta. Even as I'm trying to think back... the last time I ate pasta would probably have been in October or November... maybe even earlier. But, just like the bread/cheese craving, occasionally the thought of amazing pasta just clamps down in the front of my brain and won't let go.
Maybe it's pure rationalization, but I figure that, if you have a strong craving, your body is deficient in something... in my case, probably calcium.
It's not something that's easy to admit, but I'm pretty sure I have a mildly obsessive personality. Or maybe not so mild. Like, if I bump one elbow, I twist and bump the other without thinking so the sides are 'equal'. As a kid, I couldn't step on cracks or shadows without feeling like I had committed some kind of horrible sin. With food, I often have no problem eating the same thing for 5 or 6 meals in a row (including breakfast), and then I don't want to eat it again for months (or years).
Apparently I used to be even more extreme when I was young... like, refusing to eat all meat for almost a year, or if one type of food was touching another type, I wouldn't eat at all (my parents were smart and bought those fondue-plates with dividers, but that didn't solve 'lasagna' or other mixed foods). I hung onto my 'no onions, bell peppers or mushrooms' phase until I was 23. Even if they were chopped up really small in a sauce, I'd sit there and pick them all out. Clams in clam chowder, same thing.
Oh, and I still don't eat bell peppers :) It's a texture-thing.
My very first post was about obsession, and I'm sure, if I look through my archives, I'd find a lot more.
Anyone who has ever read even the shortest piece of my writing can tell you my characters are all about their obsessions. Some are obsessed with a perfect love, some with memories/grief, with a dead sibling, or feelings they don't yet understand.
"Simon's Oath" is all about a brother obsessed with protecting his younger brother. "Brake Fluid" is about a teenager obsessed with figuring out the rules of give and take between people. My newest story, about Jay & Kell, is about someone obsessed with breaking down/compartmentalizing other people into manageable tidbits. Sure, he's all about 'painting the play of light across her damaged skin', but at the heart of it, he's trying to take hold of the one piece he can understand, and he's ready to discard the rest. And Kell isn't all that different.
In fact, the most normal, un-obsessed character I've written was for Project #5 (Afraid of the Dark), which might be why that story kinda sputtered out. Sure, Sikka really wanted to find her sister... but that was it. It wasn't enough. There wasn't an obsessive, all-consuming pull like in "Simon's Oath". Even Issa... sure, she killed a god to keep her and her sister together... but there should be more. There needed to be more.
I've been told, enough times that I feel comfortable typing the words here, that I write emotion well, and that my characters are always deep and complex.
I don't know if I would describe it that way. Maybe it's simply that I understand obsession so well that I can write it in any number of different forms. And obsession, of any kind, is intense.
Every person, whether they admit to it or not, has things they are passionate about, that they crave or obsess over. I had a friend who would get twitchy if he didn't swim everyday. Another friend carefully applies her makeup until it's perfect, even if it'll make her super late for work. Someone else I know collects Tinkerbell Christmas ornaments (yeah, really), and another picks up a packet of matches wherever he goes. Even people who change jobs every other year, that's a kind of obsession that drives them. Many people are obsessed with keeping up a particular "image" of themselves, some by philosophical notions, like right/wrong, or finding meaning in what seems to be random chaos.
Obsession is another way of looking at that all-too-familiar writing question:
What's the most important thing to your character/what do they stand to lose?
And that's what every story of mine begins with. Not necessarily a problem, but an obsession. Something that matters so strongly to that character that it's going to leach out into everything they do, ever decision they make, and everything they care about. In every scene, no matter what's going on, that obsession is there in the background, influencing every thought, reaction, and line of dialogue.
It's never just something they like, or are interested in. It's strong enough to permeate every aspect of their life. If removed, it would leave an un-fillable void, both in the character, and the story, but if "healed"...the character would be forever changed.
Obsession is all about the border of extremes: destruction or redemption.
...and that's probably why I don't write a lot of romance/love, because in YA, it's usually all about first-love, or puppy-love, neither of which are all-consuming and destructive enough to be labelled "obsession". And where's the fun in that?
What do you guys think? Can you categorize your characters by their obsessions? Have you ever even thought of your characters interests/passions in those terms? What IS the most important thing to your MC, and how deeply does it radiate throughout the story?