#AtoZChallenge: M is for Motivation

For the A-Z challenge, I am posting writing and editing tips to help you improve and enhance your writing.

M is for Motivation

motivation

Sometimes when I’m reading, something a character does or says pulls me up short and I think Why did they do/say that?

One of the reasons we love to read is because reading fiction helps us to understand our world and the people in it, to understand why people do what they do. In our writing, unlike real life, we can make our characters’ motivations clear.

A character’s motivation will determine what they say, what they do, and what they feel.

So do you understand your characters’ motivations? Do you know why they do what they do? If the answer is no, then your readers aren’t going to know either. And if the answer is yes, then are you making sure that you are conveying that to your reader?

First of all, make it clear in your own mind what your characters’ motivations are. Do they have a job they hate? Are they trapped in a loveless marriage? Are they desperate for money? You get the idea.

For example, in the wonderful book and film ‘The Princess Bride’, the motivation behind everything that Inigo Montoya does is clear – he wants revenge:

inigo

And to take an example from television – Walter White in Breaking Bad is motivated to break the law and to get involved with incredibly dangerous people because he wants to provide for his family (at least that’s his motivation to begin with – there’s lots more in there to do with emasculation and power but I’ll leave that for now!).

You don’t need to bore your reader with great chunks of back story. A few choice details about a character’s past, their family, their everyday lives revealed slowly through action and dialogue will speak volumes. Have your character make decisions that reflect this and their motivations will be clear.

You need to get into your characters’ heads, and into their shoes. Know them well and you will know how they will react in certain situations.

Any advice on how to get inside your character’s head? Share your ideas by leaving a comment below. Thanks!

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16 comments

  1. So true, Alison. Thanks for reminding. Some characters are easier than others, but we need to get into their minds and shoes. Walking and thinking with them. I often even dream about them, too, as my plots unravel 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks, Alison. Sorry I’ve not stopped by earlier – feel like I’m just keeping my head above water this month. This is a good post – I’m slowly getting the idea if I have a character without a clear motivation, they’ve got to go!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. So so true! There is a character in my current WIP that will play a much bigger role in the sequel, and it’s been so fun knowing all her motivations her that readers won’t find perfectly clear until much later. I’ve got to remember to leave enough juicy tidbits to keep them interested (and believing) in her antics. Thanks so much for the post!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I think it’s important, also, to keep motivation in mind throughout, as much as it is plot. Something I often see, particularly with debut authors, is that the characters’ motivations are forgotten, and the writer makes them do things that are out of character for the sake of taking the plot to the required place. I always think it’s worth doing a specific feasibility edit, in which you question whether everything a character does and says is in line with his motivation. I find the ‘getting into a character’s head’ easiest when writing in the 1st person, but I suppose that’s obvious, really. If I can’t do so, it usually means to me that a character isn’t working, so I’ll have a re-think.

    As for Walter White, I reckon by about series 4 his motivation was his need to be the ultimate alpha male, never mind anyone else!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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