Saturday, April 15, 2017

A to Z: Motivations

2017 THEME: Editing Fiction (Because that's what I'm in the middle of doing.)

What is the Blogging from A to Z challenge and where can I find more participants? Right here.

Are your characters properly Motivated? Do their actions make sense to someone not inside their head?

One of the things I like to do best when I'm editing/reading/critiquing/whatever term makes you happy for someone else, is ask why. Why does a character have to do whatever it is that the author has deemed they must do? Does it fit with their character? Does it make sense?

This might mean the stakes need to be increased or more conflict is necessary to drive the character to a specific action. Maybe they're doing an action that entirely illogical but would make complete sense with more set up earlier in the story. Do we need a little backstory or introspection to clarify the why?

To much why can be a sign of a weak plot. Again, not that the story is bad or the idea sucks, but perhaps everything that needs to be there to make the character's motivation a strong one, isn't all on the page yet. I've been guilty a time or three of sending a story off to critique partners before I've gotten all the necessary words out of my head and onto the page. Sometimes, dammit, we're just really excited to send it off for feedback. Which typically leads to the story limping back covered in red ink and then it sits in the corner, staring glumly at the floor for a few days. Poor thing.

Things to consider:
Is this character under enough pressure to have to make this terrible/major choice?
Does event A, B and C add up to a logical reason why the character acts this way?
Is the character taking an active role in what happens to him/her?

You definitely have some work to do if: The character is acting erratically because...
they had a bad dream or a bad feeling with no further elaboration
for because I am the writer and I said so. Don't question me!
they just felt like doing something different that day
the prophecy said it would happen like this

Enough about character motivations, what motivates you to write?


  1. Great tips. I also think it's good for the reader to have built up enough of a picture of the character that their actions make sense, even if they're totally off-the-wall. It can't be too predictable either. A delicate balance!

  2. Great post. I wrote one recently where setting up the MCs motivation for a choice he made that many would have thought silly without that setup was critical. The challenge was in making that setup interesting to keep the reader enthralled leading up to the meat of the book.

  3. I gave a talk at my local library this week on writer's block, and character motivation is one of the points I touched on. Not being clear in your own mind of the "why" can result in a block. Sometimes your subconscious mind balks and you experience that awful "can't find the words" feeling. Understanding motivation is important.

  4. Hi Jean - when reading one's work through ... it has to hold its course -- we should be able to realise a weakness at this point ... but useful to be aware of the points you've given us ... cheers Hilary

  5. Character motivation is so important. I'm one of those annoying critique partners who is always asking 'why?' Why would Character do this when doing that would be simpler? As humans, we've got countless motivations for our actions. It's important to remember characters need them too!

  6. This is a great point. If readers do get the protagonist's passion, it's hard to read the book to its end. Excellent point.

  7. Keeping my characters in character is something I have to be careful with, especially if I'm working on more than one story at once. Actually, the dragons are helping with that practice, since I'm trying to make each one unique and that includes their motivations.
    Sophie's Thoughts & Fumbles - Dragon Diaries


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