When it comes to writing compelling characters, there is one thing that is often overlooked. What is that character’s motivation?
In this blog post, we’ll look at how you can craft a fascinating character that engages your readers from the very beginning.
Storytelling is more than just events happening to characters. You, as the author, need to take the readers on a journey. By the end of the story, your characters need to have changed somehow. That’s not to say that it’s always a good change! But readers expect to see character progression or a character arc.
When it comes to character, I like to use a simple, three-statement method for understanding the character:
- Somebody …
- Wants something …
- Is blocked by …
Often, I see characters responding to events around them but it is never clear why they are doing that. There is no clear understanding of what they want. This is where motivation comes in.
What is a character’s motivation?
It’s the character’s reason for doing something. While you may not explicitly state this to your reader, it should be absolutely clear.
- To get the boy of his dreams
- To escape the evil monster
- To land that new contract
These are motivations that drive your character across the entire story. And, by the end of the story, we should discover if the character was successful or not.
It’s the character’s reason for doing something.
While these are good examples of character motivations for the entire story, sometimes we might need to break those down a little. To get the boy of his dreams, our hero might need to:
- Come out to his parents, friends and colleagues
- Get the attention of the boy
- Find a way to be alone with the boy
- To ask the boy out on a date
- To get over rejection
These smaller motivations can be what drives the scene forward and moves the character towards their final motivation, whether they are successful or not.
How do you discover what that character’s motivation is?
To understand your character’s motivation, you need to fully understand your character:
- Their history
- Their relationships
- Their wants and desires
- Their fears and failures
You may end up knowing more about your character than you actually write about, but that’s okay. It’ll give you a more rounded picture of who you are writing about.
Ask yourself why a character does something.
Ask yourself why a character does something. It may be something in their past that makes them behave in a certain way or a desire that makes them act that way. Asking why, as the writer, will help you understand that motivation. Why is that character acting in a certain way?
A character’s actions may appear ‘out of character’ at a point in your story. This is all about the change. Maybe the character realises they cannot reach their goal. Maybe they do reach their goal and they are happy.
But without a motivation, we cannot have that finality that we so desire at the end of the story. Make your characters compelling. Give them a reason. Give them a motivation.
Nick (he/him) is an editor and proofreader, specialising in LGBTQ+ writing. He is an Intermediate Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading and a member of PEN, the Professional Editors Network.
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