As mentioned elsewhere, it has been a stumbling block for my readers to understand what drives my characters. I had thought I had communicated character desires through showing, and action, but it is not seeming to translate to the reader.
Example: One character wishes to follow the footsteps of her mother, who has passed away. This desire is to honor her mother, and she comes from this sort of culture. She makes choices towards following her mother's footsteps throughout the first half of the novel. In the second half of the novel she is unable to continue on this path, and this eventuality is distressing to her. I had thought both sides of this coin were communicated effectively through showing, but my feedback indicates otherwise. Readers don't know what she wants. She is making choices, and succeeding and failing, and I thought this communicated her desires.... but readers don't seem to understand why she is moving in the directions she is - (And, they don't know if they agree with her or not, because they don't have a clean sense of her desire - to hang their hat on, I suppose.)
Do my characters need to have their desires stated (presumably by other characters to keep it from being too on the nose)? Do these statements need to be quite explicit? If desires are not met, should this be called out as well? All my instincts scream 'No' but there must be a happy middle between what I've done and what my readers would like.
I appreciate that this is a hard question to answer in the abstract, but perhaps you'll have some insight.
As an edit: Thank you for the food for thought. I've further thoughts as well.
There are differences between short and long term goals, desires and ambitions.
An ambition for this character might be 'to emulate my mother' and ambition is typically reflective of a personality trait and longer lasting than a goal.
A goal can be easily attainable and highly concrete, such as 'Join the lady's auxiliary to which my mother belonged,' or broad (and vague) such as 'do many of the things that she once did.'
A desire might be 'to honor her memory' (In this story context, there are spiritual overtones for the daughter). This last one, the desire, is most intriguing to me and to perhaps the readers, I believe it is most illustrative of the daughter's character and therefore valuable, and it goes to motivation and what drives her.
Perhaps all three need to be understood by the author in order to have constructed a good character.
If my schema is good, then I presume goals can be easily shown through decisions and do not need to be stated outright, yet desires should be communicated and likely require more finesse. Ambition, perhaps, never needs to be articulated, tho' it should be clear to any engaged reader. Perhaps I was good with goals in my story but the desires are missing. As always, your thoughts are welcome.