Your characters need layers right? Right – otherwise they’re just cardboard cutout characters, and who wants that? Heather Webb shows us how to make our characters better, stronger, faster. =)
For Part One, we talked about how analyzing our own voices (our inner critics) can help us layer our characters. Today we’ll look at another major factor that shapes our protagonist’s journey—their motivations and goals and how they’re reflected in their actions.
Let’s begin with motivation:
Motivation (both external and internal) propels a character to make choices and act. Motivations are, in essence, emotions or a set of beliefs that a character feels AS A RESULT of something that has happened to them in the past (backstory).
A few ways a character may be motivated are:
To be loved/accepted
Action, on the other hand, is how a character responds to these motivations. Actions not only shed light on the character themselves, but they also drive the plot.
Action: Carol ran three miles every day this week.
Motivation: She wants to be a healthy person who lives a long life.
Not to be confused with Author Motivation: Carol needs to run every day that week so a creepy stalker can memorize her pattern. Also, the book needs a thriller element introduced.
But if Carol despises exercise and wouldn’t be caught dead in running shorts, the reader won’t believe Carol will run at all, never mind every day that week. This means the character’s motivation needs to be very clear from the first chapter. Many querying writers receive rejections because their characters lack motivation and GOALS.
Which brings me to my next point. A character’s goal is NOT the same thing as their motivation. Think of it this way:
A Goal is the big prize at the end of all of that motivation. Carol’s goal is to lose 20 pounds, though her motivation is to be healthy.
Character Goals are measurable and tangible, concrete.
In my historical novel Becoming Josephine that JUST RELEASED THREE DAYS AGO from Penguin (EEEP!)…
Action: Josephine goes for a walk with her six year old daughter on her sugar plantation.
Motivation: She loves to walk in her jungle home to see the plants (she’s a collector) and to get away from her household.
Author Motivation: Josephine and her daughter need to stumble into the slave quarters so A.) the reader will witness how the revolution abroad is causing rebellion among the slaves all the way in her Caribbean home, B.) their lives can be threatened when a few surround them on their way back to the plantation house. Basically a thriller element is needed at that point in the manuscript.
Character Goal: Josephine aims to burn some of her six year old’s energy off on the walk.
From the examples, we can see that motivation, goals, and actions are essential in portraying a character’s view of the world as well as driving the plot. Without them, the story falls flat and the protagonist lacks a reason for BEING.
Stay tuned for the third and final part of this series on Character Motivation, in which we’ll discuss creating conflict to ensure our protagonist’s arc.
What’s your method on defining and introducing your character’s goals and motivation?
Aimee Denim joins us on Monday, January 6th.
Bio: As a freelance editor, Heather spends oodles of time helping writers find their voice and hone their skills–something she adores. She may often be found twittering helpful links, sharing writing advice and author interviews on her blog Between the Sheets, or teaching novel writing in her community. Her favorite haunts are right here at the fabulous Romance University.org and the award-winning WriterUnboxed.com where she poses as Twitter mistress. She may also be found at The Debutante Ball, a site about the journey to publication for debut novelists.
Her first women’s historical, BECOMING JOSEPHINE: A NOVEL, has already been featured in The Wall Street Journal and releases as a lead title from Plume/Penguin December 31, 2013.
- Character Motivation Part One: Using Your Inner Critic to Shape Your Protagonist By Heather Webb
- Weekly Lecture Schedule Dec 30-Jan 3
- Editor Heather Webb – Making Characters Unforgettable a.k.a. Character Arc
- Deepening Motivation and Plot in Historical Fiction with Marci Jefferson
- Ask an Editor: Backstory and Pacing