Thursday, February 18, 2010

Character Motivation

One thing that's crucial to a good story is the main character's motivation. It's pretty much what drives the story.

And it's one thing to drop a character into a situation. I can think of dozens of books that feature a reluctant hero. But what motivates that character to stay the course?

Perhaps a character is given choices. His ultimate desire and motivation should determine his path. Perhaps he selects the wrong road to travel? Maybe he even gets sidetracked and forgets his original motivation.

What if there is no choice? What if our character has only one path? I often think that's similar to real life. We have a goal, a motivation, but our ideal route of choice isn't always the one provided. Or the journey just isn't how we'd envisioned it.

Motivation has a variety of forms and sources. Interior or exterior. Emotional or logical. Past events or future dreams. A combination of those forces and occurrences can fuel our character's motivations.

Character motivation is probably the one thing I considered the most when writing my book. Events of the past, most notably those outside of their control, motivated my main characters. Throughout the story, I kept referring back to their motivation - was it apparent in every scene? Did their actions and behaviors line up with that drive? For me, it was like a gut check to make sure I was still on track.

How strongly do you follow through on your character's motivations?
Do you like highly motivated characters in your books?

Just Alex pondering on writing...


Hannah said...

I follow my characters pretty closely. When I'm writing character bios, I'm surprised by who they turn out to be and what drives them; because it's usually nothing like how I planned.

Unknown said...

Many times the main character is thrown into a situation and has, as you stated, no choice but to follow through.

In actuality, once there, they do become motivated – highly motivated – to see their purpose or mission through.

So yes, I like highly motivated characters. That in turn creates highly motivated reading!

Helen Ginger said...

Even if the time passage in your book is short, the book itself is long. If your character doesn't have strong motivation, s/he won't keep moving forward and dragging readers along with him/her. The readers will drop by the wayside, mumbling, why am I wasting my time with this guy?

Straight From Hel

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Great point, Alex. I think motivation is incredibly important. If it seems like a trumped up, unrealistic motivation then I think we risk frustrating our readers. I write about amateur sleuths, so I'm very careful to explain *why* they're getting involved in solving a murder mystery (it's not something that most people, who aren't in law enforcement, do.)

Mystery Writing is Murder

The Old Silly said...

Some very good points and thoughts here on motivation. A character's motivation is fundamental and key to a good book, for sure.

Marvin D Wilson

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Helen, we don't want to waste anyone's time!

Elizabeth, I equate unrealistic motivation to contrived movie plot twists. People can tell when it's forced.

Crystal, good to know you like them highly motivated!

Sarah Ahiers said...

i think character motivation is necessary for a successful novel. One of the issues with my stalled WIP i have is that one of the MC (the main MC) is passive. He has no motivation, therefore there's no real need for him to change. Things just happen to him. How boring

L. Diane Wolfe said...

My books are such a slice of life, I really have to focus on character motivation.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Fallen, time to drop a bomb on him and move him to motivation!

Jemi Fraser said...

My characters are motivated by the deaths of family members - I like to have them driven :)