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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

How do your characters stay motivated?

Now that we are freshly motivated to keep writing no matter what, let's talk about character motivations. And I'm not talking about the surface "they are running because they don't want to get shot, or eaten, or whatever". I'm talking about the deep running things that made them who they are.

We act certain ways because of, wait for it...back story. Yeah. Things like:
  • How we were raised
  • Our parents philosophy on discipline
  • Whether or not we had two parents
  • What kind of education we had
  • How many friends and what sort of friends we had
  • Did we see/experience death at an early age
  • Did we have to kill someone to protect ourselves or a loved one
  • Were we abused
  • Did we abuse
  • Did we have a pet
  • Or not

You can keep listing all kinds of random things, but I think you get the idea. What happened in your character's past helped form their world view and their personality. They have a standard way of reacting to certain stimuli.

The trick as writers is that we must understand all that backstory and the nuances it created in our character without laying it all out for the reader. A well placed line here and there can fulfill the need to understand motivation without writing a complete flashback.

The second trick is keeping it consistent. This isn't to say your character can NEVER do anything abnormal. But if they do, there needs to be a good motivation behind it.

When your characters lie awake at night, what's missing?*

My answer for Talia from The Magic Wakes: peace and hope

Fascinating Linkage:
What's My Motivation--from one of my favorite author bloggers Janice Hardy. Enough said.
*Determining Character Motivation--by Elana Johnson who quotes Glee: "When you lie awake at night, what's missing?"
The Principles of Character Motivation from Writer's Digest. Sort of a teaser to get you to buy a book. I'm considering it. :)
On Character Motivation--what hooked me to this post is the first sentence: "It has occurred to me that while writing, one of the best things a writer can do is question every action from every character."
Understanding Why Characters Act-- A nice step by step break down of some character motivation from a movie.
The Psychology of Character--"A good writer needs to know both cause and effect, needs to understand that there is impetus behind the actions of his characters. When the writer knows a character’s motivations, she can write actions that make sense for that character in a specific situation."


Em-Musing said...

When I took acting lessons, I learned that before you step in front of the camera or on stage, you had to know everything about your character. Though the character's backstory wasn't in the script, you had to figure that out yourself. Writing characters is the same.

Charity Bradford said...

I never thought of it that way, but it's true. It's all about believability. If we don't believe it in the deepest part of our souls, the reader won't either.

Mel Chesley said...

Hmm... very good post. All of my characters are different. Diverse backgrounds, experiences, etc. Only a couple of them would ever 'hang out' together, the rest would avoid the others like the plague. One common thread runs through all of them, though. And if they were all to lie awake at night, the thing that would be missing (according to my current book)is any kind of future.

Charity Bradford said...

Ooo, chilling! Isn't it funny how different our characters can be, and yet...

Liz said...

But what if you spend too much time on a character's backstory and not enough on the current story?

Charity Bradford said...

Ah, that is tricky isn't it? I think it's going to be different for everyone when it comes to how long you dwell on backstory. Sometimes I even return to the "mulling" stage after starting to write.

If you can't get out of the backstory, then maybe you're starting the current story in the wrong place? Or maybe you need a short story to ground you before starting the bigger one?

mshatch said...

This why I love my character interviews, which are quite extensive I might add, delving into everything from what my character looks like, to where she lives, what makes her smile,what other people think of her, how her strength can be twisted to become a weakness and is she lying to herself about anything? To name a few. I found this very helpful with my last story (which is now complete) and am finding it just as helping with my new toy. Anyone who wants a copy let me know and I'll email it.

Alicia C. said...

I have mshatch's interviews! They're great! Writing a true to life character is difficult. Rarely are people shining stars of perfection. We're complex, flawed and messy. Which is what makes writing so fun. Getting to create these types of characters. The interesting ones. With back history, and depth. And personally I think everyone is motivated by world domination! Maybe their world consists of their city block, or their farm...but hey! It's all the same...