Almost there, almost done. Today’s editing post is about motivation—what inspires and impels characters.
Once the draft is completed and you’re looking to review and edit, assess your characters more closely. Our aim as writers is to draw readers into our stories, captivate them, and hold them throughout. Solid character motivations will help do that. When readers can empathize—i.e. understand what characters are going through—they’ll root for them and/or yearn to learn what transpires.
Do characters have personal motivation(s)? Upbringing, pasts and experiences—and personalities—will affect morals and principles. These, in turn, will influence decisions and ambitions, actions and reactions. Characters [like us real-life folks] have reasons for doing what they do.
What about a baddie? He/she has personal motivations, too. In mysteries and thrillers, it’s often depicted as a desire for money (greed) and/or power (rational or irrational). A baddie could be insane—but how did that madness come to be and how does it spur him/her into [crazed] action?
The ultimate question is why? Why does a character do what he/she does . . . why he/she pursues a quest, mission, goal . . . why he/she is seeking a certain outcome?
Someone from a rich family may have a fear of losing wealth; as such, he/she is driven (motivated) to ensuring that money is never an issue, no matter what it takes. If he/she has to crush toes, set someone up to take a fall, or stab someone in the back, so be it. Someone from a poor, broken home may feel a need to support others from a similar background; as such, he/she is driven (motivated) to assist, by volunteering, working for social services, belonging to the Church, or whatever source he/she deems worthwhile.
Is the motivation logical/believable? Providing character background enables the reader to comprehend what motivates a character.
Being born with a silver spoon in the mouth could make Charles a benevolent, kind soul who aspires to help those less fortunate. On the flip side, it could make Anton believe he’s entitled—to everything. As such, he’s self-centered and goal-driven, and will walk over everyone and anyone who gets in his way. Nothing wrong with basic scenarios. But consider building on them. Maybe Charles saw his father browbeat servants and workers. Maybe Anton had a mollycoddling mother. Maybe Charles traveled to a third-world country with his father in his teens and received his first taste of poverty. This resulted in an overwhelming desire to abet people in need. Maybe Anton traveled to a third-world country with his parents and was so overwhelmed, he decided he’d never lack for anything.
You don’t have to explain character motivations in exhaustive detail, but provide some particulars as to what pushes them; this will help readers understand what makes them tick and why the storyline is progressing the way it is.
Could motivation be unreasonable or absurd? Sometimes characters are driven by things (experiences, events, phobias) that aren’t always logical or obvious. From time to time, they’re impulsive, even reckless: they act out or do something that they may not normally do, given the event or scenario. Play upon this to make that plot more intriguing and unpredictable.
Motivation could develop or change with the storyline. In real life, our motives change with time or as an action/event occurs; why not have someone’s motivation transform courtesy of an unexpected plot twist or two? Make them multifaceted or convoluted to add tension and edginess.
Motivation could be physical. Perhaps your character is stranded in dense brush or on a deserted island. Suddenly, he/she is compelled to find food and water, safety and shelter. The loss of a home during a hurricane may result in the goal of seeking finances and/or a new location to start over. Self-protection might provide impetus when a tough-assed thug confronts a character, knife in hand.
Consider the following when doing your edit:
- Do your characters’ motivations show who they are?
- Have you provided details as to where the motivations stem from (the “why”)?
- Is motivation relevant to all of the main character(s)? How is it different in secondary characters from that of main character(s)?
- Do characters develop and/or learn as the plot progresses and, as such, do aims/purposes change?
Motivation could be singular throughout the story, depending on the plot. If it is, that’s fine. It can still change a character (he/she realizes something astounding, sees something new within, becomes softer or harder or vengeful). Make that motivation clear early on and have at it: i.e. pull us in. If you opt for multiple [changing] motivations, ensure they’re logical—that they transpire because of events and actions (and resulting emotions and reactions).
Hopefully, this post has provided some . . . inspirational motivation.