Monday, October 11, 2010

Character Motivations

Hope everyone had an awesome weekend! Michigan lost (horribly) to State so unfortunately wasn't able to spend any time celebrating, though I need begin revisions and watch a lot of Doctor Who.

Character motivations are essential for any story. They provide the reasoning behind character actions. Every character must have a motivation, from the main character to the biggest villain to the smallest side character.

A character without motivation is a flat character, a robot. They're stumbling through the course of the story with no reason to do the things they're doing. It's important that every action has a reason. Even Voldemort had reasons to do the things he was doing. He feared death that he was willing to tear his soul into pieces to avoid it. His past and beliefs set him up to do the terrible things he did in his life.

If you're having trouble coming up with a character motivation, look at a character and try to figure out why they act the way they do.

  • Look into the past first. A person's past has a profound effect on how they act in the present. A single event can give your character incredible depth and motivation.
  • Beliefs. Personal, religious, political.
  • The people around them. Some people act differently when they're around their friends than they do around strangers or their family. Peer pressure can cause someone to do something they never would have done on their own.
  • Personality.
Here are a few examples from Burning Bridges, the story of Kaye who lives on her dad's ranch for troubled teens and horses. She never cared about anything but the ranch and her horses until Skylar arrives and wants nothing more to leave again.

Kaye's conflict is that her dad wants her to leave the ranch and go away to college whereas she only wants to stay and work with her horses. She's motivated to stay by her fear. She's afraid that if she leaves the ranch she'll never make it back because that's what happened to her mom and sister.

Skylar's been forced onto the ranch when he causes too much trouble in the city and all he wants to do is escape again. Causing trouble is his way of dealing with all the pain in his family.