Wednesday, September 12, 2012

What Motivates Your Character?

A couple of editors mentioned they didn't believe in the motivation of my main character.

What does that mean?

Why does your/my character need believable motivation before she acts/reacts?

We need to be specific and understand exactly why a character does what she does. Ask questions. Take time to explore.

For example, from Deborah Halverson's book, WRITING YOUNG ADULT FICTION FOR DUMMIES (btw, I still hate the title):

"Consider this first draft sentence: Kirk couldn't care less about math, so he rarely did homework for his algebra class."

Cliche and bland.

"His personality is still off stage. ... What was it, exactly, that he hates about math? How would he blow something off? Kirk had 45 algebra problems to simplify that night. 15x+9+5x-2= ... Ah, screw it all. he did the simplest thing and left the book in his locker. Now that has personality. Readers get a feel for the math that's torturing him, nd then he does his knee-herk teen drama thing and ditches the math book entirely. This gives you a richer peek into the character's peronality, and it's far more engaging than the original line ..." (page 166).

Take a closer look at your characters. Why do they act and react the way they do? Is it consistent? Believable? Age appropriate?


  1. In order to engage with a character I need to understand why they do the things they do. I don't need to know immediately and I don't need to know it all at once but I have to get them, otherwise, all the rest won't make much sense or have any meaning. I also find that if I understand my own characters and their motivations it's a lot easier to write them and their story.

  2. I have read that a character should have some complexities and contradictions. I portrayed my MC as a bitchy self-centred woman who had a bag of discarded knitting in her living room and was told this sounded out of character. LOL!

  3. I run into trouble sometimes with not revealing a character's motiviation early enough. I know what it is but I make the reader wait too long to find out.

  4. Motivation is important. It makes the character believable because most people have a motive for the things that they do. Things done without a motive tend to be labeled psychopathic.

  5. I often ask myself why my character wants what s/he wants, and what my character really needs from what she wants. Needs and wants can be two different things.

  6. Does he not like it because he doesn't get it? Is he being lazy or is he frustrated because other kids are getting it and he isn't? Maybe he has A.D.D. and cannot connect the sequences in a mathematical equation. There are any number of reasons a character might refuse to do something, then their motivation is we know why he decided to not do the work. He's insecure about his level of knowledge, feeling of failure.

    To me those are all good motivations which would make me connect more with the character, give him some depth and make him believable.

    1. Now I need to go back and figure out what motivates mine! LOL

  7. Great example...I always suffer in the first 10k or so of a novel...while I'm still developing the characters. I always have to go back and beef it up.

  8. One of the most helpful questions my beta group asked was around this very idea. It really pushed my book to the next level.

  9. The motivations of my characters are the first things I figure out before I start writing. Not because it is what I am supposed to do, but because I want to know.

    You'll find that you even love your characters more once it's clear in your mind.

    To go, lady! Happy Writing!