Monday, June 2, 2014

Character Motivation

I decided at the last minute that I'm going to talk about characters today because I feel like it's been awhile, which made me a bit sad because characters are my favorite part of any given novel due to the fact that they're just so . . . interesting, I guess?

Run-on sentence, I know.

So I thought I'd bring up motives.

See, characters do things, right? Katniss volunteered as a tribute in the place of her sister, Tris chose Dauntless over the familiarity of Abnegation, and so the bell tolls. The thing is, both of these characters did things that shocked their communities, and they did them for different reasons. Katniss's sole purpose in volunteering was to save her sister, even if it meant her own almost certain death. Tris was looking for a way to simply find where she belonged after her test failed to give her an answer.

Family and self-identity. Two reasons.

The question you have to ask yourself with your own characters is: why?

Most people don't just make decisions-particularly life changing ones-just because. More than likely there's no easy answer, either. The answer to "why did you go to the store" isn't "to buy food," it's more like "because I am human and I seek socially acceptable ways to curb my instinctual hunger."

Okay, that's probably pushing it.

What I'm trying to get at is that every character has a motive. They have reasons for keeping their head down and following the rules, they have reasons to fight back. And every character is going to be different based off what's the most important thing to them and how they interpret the world.

Last week I wrote a post called Creating History, and it kind of ties in slightly. Your character's history-as in, every moment that's led them up to the present-will have a huge impact on the way they act and the choices they make, so knowing your character inside and out will help you realize why they need to make certain decisions. This is particularly helpful for if you ever put your character in a no-win situation; in that case, you're going to need to put yourself in your character's shoes in order to weigh the pros and cons and help them make a decision.

Here's a few examples based off The Hollow Men:

Moe's motives come strongly from losing her parents three years prior to the novel. At this point in her life, her older sister, Hadley, left to join a secret rebellion group housed in Iota, which meant that the majority of the time she was a city away. Thus the job of keeping herself and her younger sister, Kara, alive on the streets was left to her. She has a strong sense of loyalty to her family and the few people she can call friends, as well as an urge to protect them, and she also has a forceful curiosity that makes her want to know what, exactly, Hadley was up to.

Her motives all trickle down to family.

Ronnie is a bit different. She's bionic, which makes her super strong, super fast, and really hard to kill. She also has no memories prior to six months before the novel begins. She gets small glimpses, sure, but those glimpses are practically nightmares. Her anger also gets ahead of her sometimes, leaving her to do things she regrets, which means that she tends to avoid people because destroying a room or an abandoned portion of a city street is a lot better than hurting those around her.

Her motives have to do with identity and self-acceptance.

Wow, those sound really familiar to Katniss and Tris, don't they? I promise it wasn't on purpose. Ever hear of the "seven basic novel plots"? Motives act in the same way. When you really get down to the grit and basics of who your characters are, there's only a handful of motivations that tend to drive them (this goes for people, too). What makes them stand out is how they go about fulfilling those motives.

Don't forget, they can be selfish, too. An example is the primal instinct that humans feel to survive. This means that there are some people and characters who wouldn't hesitate to throw others under the bus in order to save themselves.

Take Ronnie. She wants to know who she is. What if she has the opportunity to discover her history, but at the cost of Moe's life?

Once you know what your character's motives are, you've opened up a world of possibilities. You now know how they might think-even if they aren't consciously thinking about their motives. Your question becomes: what would they do to fulfill those motives?

And you also have the other question you can ask yourself: what wouldn't they do?

A really fun thing to do in a novel is to always make your character's motives queantionable. Then make your other characters question them. I'm not going to lie, this is an aspect that I'm playing on a lot within the character dynamics of The Hollow Men, and even I get surprised sometimes.

This means that while you can give your characters motives, and they can also have ulterior motives. What are they really trying to do? Ha, now there's options for betrayal. You're welcome.

I might be getting ahead of myself, but something else to keep in mind is that motives will change. On some level, the things your characters want will probably shift, or else the ways in which they go about getting them will change. This is called character development, which I'll talk about sometime in the future. Hint: character development is super important.

Happy Monday!


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