I mentioned earlier this week that I’m reading through Deb Dixon’s Goal, Motivation and Conflict. (This book rocks.) Today I thought I’d talk about properly motivating your characters.
Remember watching one of those B-horror movies where the girl hears a noise in the dark, scary basement and goes down alone, with no weapon, to check it out? Remember screaming at the television, “You’re going to die, beeyatch!”
The reason scenes like these are so unbelievable is because the character is acting in a way most people normally wouldn’t, without any discernable reason for it. In other words, she lacks proper motivation.
There needs to be a believable reason why she would go into that dark basement alone and weaponless, and the reason must be urgent. Maybe her toddler is teetered on the rickety stairs, in imminent danger of falling and breaking his neck. Or her puppy has already taken a tumble and is lying on the basement floor, whimpering in pain.
Adding proper motivation to your characters allows your reader to suspend disbelief and get drawn into the story. If your character is going to act against his or her own interests or do something he or she wouldn’t normally do, there must be a darn good reason for it. The motivation must be larger-than-life.
So what’s the best way to test your motivations, to learn whether they are important enough to sustain the character’s action? Well, it’s reader response. This is where critique partners or beta readers are invaluable, because they can see the manuscript in a way you’ll never be able to.
In one of my manuscripts, the hero is trailing the heroine because he may at some point be ordered to kill her. Now that doesn’t make him seem very empathetic. So what do you do to create empathy in a situation like this? Well, in my case, the hero‘s actions are all done with the goal of saving the world from destruction. His otherwise reprehensible actions can be excused because his motivations are strong and inherently good.
Can you think of a book or movie that just wowed you due to the characters’ strong motivations? (I’m thinking Avatar off the top of my head.) Or maybe it’s a book that you’ve written? If so, I’d love to hear a bit about it.