A popular post from December 2007
By Julie Wright
This isn't about you--the writer. If you're not motivated to write, go yell at your muse and get back to work.
This is about your character.
I recently finished the book Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George. Her characters intrigued me. I believed them--all of them. I believe the things they did, because I understood what motivated them. Jessica took a young girl, not destined to become much or do anything grand, and made her marvelous.
It didn't happen over a single page-turn, but throughout the entire book. Little by little her motivations were molded and shaped into a moment where she alone decided the fate of a country. In the beginning our heroine, Creel, would never have punched a princess in the nose or faced down a small army of dragons. But things change for characters--or at least they should.
What changes our characters? Motivation.
A woman who loves chocolate needs no motivation to eat a chocolate cake. She sees the cake and eats it because it's there. But that same woman who has a deathly fear of heights might need some motivation to cross an old rickety bridge spanning a deep chasm. She isn't going to cross the bridge merely because it's there. She needs some motivation.
Say we have that same woman, who has never so much as used a mousetrap to kill a mouse, and we need her to kill someone. She doesn't kill people, she can't even kill mice. But a properly motivated woman *could* kill another person.
That person she needs to kill might be standing in front of that bridge she has to cross. That person is blocking her way. On the other side of that bridge is her two year old son, who's been kidnapped by terrible people for terrible purposes. She's in a hurry. She's a mom. She is desperate and there is a person and a bridge standing in her way.
Now that she's properly motivated, she could conceivably kill the man in her way and cross her bridge.
On the other hand, it is conceivable that we could get the nefarious character to do something noble and even, dare we say, good. In the right circumstances anyone is capable of doing anything.
Characters need motivations that are compelling--motivations such as fear, anger, pain, desire, greed, hunger, love, and morality.
The nice man who cares for his sister's child isn't going to break a window and steal a loaf of bread. But if his sister's child is starving and close to death and he himself is starving, he would break that window.
The motivation has to exist--even if it is only imagined. Much Ado About Nothing is a perfectly executed plot driven by imagined motivation.
It's your job as the author to make certain I believe in your circumstances. Ask questions while you write. Ask your characters why they are doing something (and don't feel insane when they answer, writer's are allowed to be slightly schotzophrenic). If your why reasons sound shallow and even lame, you need to rework your story. If you aren't sure, ask someone who you trust to tell you the truth.
Always ask why.