What Women Want, in Life and in Fiction 

Lisa Taddeo, Joyce Maynard, and Jamie Quatro. Photo by Nick Doll.

By Jacqueline Patterson

In yesterday’s delightfully candid conversation, “What Women Want: A Conversation about Real Characters and Their Fictional Counterparts,” writers Joyce Maynard, Jamie Quatro, and Lisa Taddeo expanded on themes of desire in their work, exploring feminine appetites for sex, and the freedom a writer feels when able to express the deepest of desires on the page. 

Taddeo urged aspiring writers of fiction and nonfiction, “Start with a passion, an obsession—you can then put it in any form. If you can’t write your desires and obsessions and passions in a book, then where else?”

On facing fears in writing about obsessions, Quatro said, “I allow characters to do what I don’t allow myself to do.  Explore what your characters want and what they are willing to do to get it.” Women writing fiction about sexuality, she cautions, are often asked how autobiographical the work is, and whether a character is a stand-in for herself.

Whether a writer of fiction or memoir, Maynard said, “Make a list of your obsessions. Those will be the engine that drives your work.” Some of hers: love, family, home, and Dolly Parton. The useful question, she said, is “Why am I obsessed?  What speaks to me?  What touches a nerve?” The power of memoir, she says, is in its “unblinking honesty.” That doesn’t mean she shares everything, but she comes as close to the truth as possible. 

To write about desire, one must dance a tango, these three women conveyed: Embrace elements of wanting and suspense, and create a rhythm and a structure for characters to act on desires both implied and stated. As in learning the tango, the art of articulating human desires, needs, and drives—in all of their urgent complexity—takes practice. 

Jacqueline Patterson is proudly serving her twenty-second year at Plantation Key School in Tavernier, Florida. She especially enjoys cultivating students’ interests in reading and writing, advocating for vulnerable students, and going above curriculum to make connections with students and staff.

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