Character Motivation: May it Burn with the Fury of a Thousand Suns

Today’s post is brought to you by motivation. Mine, to actually write the post, and that of the characters you put into your stories – be they short stories or long. Characters are the heart of your tales, they’re who the reader connects with, and they must be on point. Motivation is key to bringing that connectedness to the fore.

Characters are also essential to driving plot, and every character you put into your tales (yes, every) needs to have motive. There needs to be a reason your protagonist makes the decisions they do, there needs to be intent behind your antagonist’s choices. The reasons and intent don’t have to be honourable or dastardly (gods, I love that word), and they don’t have to sit in neat little boxes ‒ protagonist = good, antagonist = bad ‒ they just have to be real. Flaws and all.

I couldn’t tell you the amount of times I’ve put down a book because the characters were wandering aimlessly looking for a plot, or waiting for said plot to impact them. It doesn’t work that way.  The story cannot act independently of the characters. You don’t read a story solely for plot, you read it for those who live, who try to survive the world you’ve created. Don’t sell them short.

Ray-Bradbury 1

So what is motivation? Merriam-Webster defines it as: a motivating force, stimulus, or influence. Incentive. Drive.

That. Right there. ↑ Now ask yourself: what is the incentive, the influence that drives your character(s)? It’s that inner motivation, that sense of self that impacts the plot, the story. And will continue to do so. Every decision (good or bad) your characters make will influence the story – some of these decisions may essentially backfire, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Nothing should be easy.

Motivation doesn’t need to be complex, it can be simple but it needs to be that driving force. Yes, FORCE. Motivation can be: you killed my family, payback’s a bitch. Simple, yes? But the depth comes in the decisions and choices your character makes to achieve this end.

Let’s take a look at how this works. Your protagonist, now alone in the world, is driven almost blindly for retribution. Do you: a) have them stumble across a magical object that by chance provides them with the exact location of the antagonist and off they go? Or b) have them make a pact with a shifty character whose motivations, while at odds with their own, can get them closer to their target ‒ but in doing so compromises the protagonists morals?

You know which one I’m reading. Character motivation can (and should) cause all kinds of issues that influence plot/story. Characters are the driving force behind your storytelling, and what motivates them is what will connect to the reader. Give them lives and loves, sins and secrets, and have all of that be the heart of your story.

Motivation and conflict of that motivation is what can make a good story great. Don’t waste time on overly-detailed physical descriptions. Sure, physicality is important to a point – it’s nice to know what a character looks like, but is it essential to the story? Rarely. Ah, but give conflict to motivation and you really set the bar high.

So your antagonist has green eyes. Cool. Does she burn with the fury of a thousand suns because your protagonist was born into a family that subjugated hers? Your protagonist has hair the colour of silver? Nice. Does she practice her fighting skills to the point of exhaustion to not only kill the antagonist who wreaks havoc on the realm’s stability, but to take her place and destroy the father she hates?

You see where I’m going with this? By giving your characters motivation to achieve their ends, by adding conflict to that motivation, you make them real to your reader, you make them believable, and you create a story that has depth and layers and soul. It’s what brings readers back to your writing.

Motivation. It makes all the difference. Have it make the difference in your story.

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