How to Motivate Your Characters

Every writer will know just how important characterisation is. It’s what gives characters their unique characteristics, it’s what makes them seem real to their readers.
One of the aspects of characterisation is motivation – the reasons why your characters do what they do.  What are the reasons behind their actions? What is it that drives them to act in a certain way, sometimes contrary to their personalities?
Motivation is one of the driving forces with any story. It is what makes them achieve their goal by the end of a novel, and it is what makes them change in either their personality or outlook, it is what makes their journey so tenable and believable for a reader.
More fundamentally, it moves the story forward.
But how do you keep your characters motivated (and more importantly, your readers interested?).
Writers use various ways to do this – Goals, obstacles, subplots and conflict. These main drivers, when combined, form a powerful fiction writing mix.
If you’ve been wise enough to sketch out a plot summary, then you will have an idea of what will happen during the course of the story and you may have an ending in mind. That means you’ve already assigned a specific goal for your main character to achieve, e.g. save the world or find the truth or prevent disaster, that kind of thing.
If you haven’t written a plot summary, you may not always know where the story is heading, and character goals may not be so apparent, or they may change considerably by the end of the novel (which means some of the character motivations may not make sense).
Of course, it’s not just your main character that will require motivation. You might also have an antagonist who also has his or her own objectives to achieve (usually to thwart to hero reaching his or her goals in some way or another).
There is no rule to say a character must have just one affirming objective in a story, either. They could have several. So by setting your character several objectives, you are motivating the characters to do certain things and to act in certain ways in order to get what they want.
By doing that, you are moving the story forward.
No story would be worth reading unless you place plenty of obstacles in the way of your characters.  Just when your character (and the reader) thinks the goal is in sight, you throw a curve ball, you knock them back. Your characters are not there for an easy ride. The writer should make life difficult for the main characters.
By placing obstacles in their way, you are creating new motivations for the characters – the motivation to overcome the knock backs, to beat the odds, to get out of difficult situations, and to succeed in reaching that ultimate goal.
You should push your characters in different directions, make them act, react or adapt.
By making their lives difficult and pushing them to the limit, you are once again moving the story forward.
These extra plot strands - pertinent to and parallel with your main plot – can provide extra motivation for your characters, because subplots will involve secondary characters directly involved with the main character, and they will interact with your main character. That means they will have their own ideas and objectives.
How you make your characters interact within these subplots will provide impetus for keeping your story moving towards the conclusion. It may be that your main character’s goals change focus because of a subplot, therefore the motivation may change and new objectives come into play.
Conflict is absolutely necessary in fiction. Without it, you don’t have much of a story.
Creating different conflicts reaffirms any character’s motivations, because of the negative and positive aspects associated with it. Just as obstacles provide necessary motivation, the same is true with conflict.  That’s because one character wants one thing, but another character may disagree and try to prevent it, thus creating conflict (and new motivation).
The more conflict you have with different characters, the more incentive you give them in order to get what they want.
And just like goals, obstacles and sub plots, conflict is a vital ingredient in moving the story forward.
If you want to motivate your characters, make sure you give them achievable objectives, give them plenty of hurdles and difficulties to overcome, weave in a subplot or two and above all, give them something to fight about – conflict.

Next week: Writing love scenes


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