by guest blogger Jacqui Johnson
Primary school teacher and author.
Can't see the forest for the trees? Are you lost in your story and don't know what is going wrong? Maybe it has something to do with your character's motivation. If so, read on.
As always, writer’s workshop this month was excellent! It’s such an encouragement getting together with fellow writers to support and inspire one another. I was pleased when we started the first meeting for the New Year by going over the groups official guidelines which were negotiated to ensure we get the best out of our meetings. This was inspired by Megan’s blog post on Creative Kids Tales about Writer’s Groups. Why be in One? How do You Start One?
We come together to share and critique each other’s work. Each month we choose an area of our writing which we would like to improve to focus on. As I was leading this month, I chose 'character motivation.'
There are times when writing that you are not sure if a character is doing all they should, or some of your minor characters can seem less or more realistic, these are perfect times to pause your text to ensure you fully understand their motivations.
Ahead are the three phases we worked through to find and improve our character's motivation.
"Do you understand what motivates your characters?"
In order to better understand this vast topic, initially we went through an article on the Writers Helping Writers website titled, ‘Character Motivation Thesaurus’. This article focuses on character goals (outer motivation), the human need driving the goal (inner motivation), methods for achieving the goal, how the character may prepare for this goal, possible sacrifices or costs associated with the goal, roadblocks which could prevent the goal being achieved, talents and skills to help the character, possible fallout if the goal is not met, and clichés to avoid.
We discussed how each element would help to better understand your character and drive elements of the plot. I discussed how the research into character motivation had help with editing a secondary text (that I am working on) ensuring motivations of the main character were being explored.
All too often, I just assume the audience will love my main characters as much as I do, so I don't always spend enough time explaining their drives, passions and motivations. Instead I feel the need to invest in secondary characters explaining who they are, and how they think in order for the audience to understand them and connect.
This can result in a main character the audience doesn't relate to, and a secondary character who the reader is more invested in and would prefer to read more about. A solution to this issue might be to ensure I’ve taken enough time to fully investigate each of the main characters and their motivations, factoring in how best to convey these and the way it will affect the plot.
We went on to summarize Kristen Kieffer’s article, How to Create Character Motivations that will Rivet Your Readers. In this article, Kristen looks at hooks and breaks it down to what it means. The article examines the craft of weaving good character motivations into a text. We discussed what is meant by a hook in detail.
Megan's two cents: Check it out. It helped me gain a better understanding of the all important hook. I knew that I needed one, but I never knew what having a 'hook' meant. Kristen explains it clearly. I no longer wonder what it means.
"Motivations work to grip the reader." Kristen Kieffer
We then completed a ‘character motivation activity’ based on selected randomly generated character motivations. We each selected one of the samples and built a character by following the guidelines of the ‘Character Motivation Thesaurus’ prompts. Below is my character based on the motivation prompt, ‘your character’s fondest wish is to take a new direction':
Goal: move/ re-create who he is
Need: safety, love and belonging
Method: quit job, search (seek & find) new direction
Proposed Character: Daniel Cooper, mid 30’s working off shore on an oil rig is questioning if the isolated routine he has is all there is in life. He wants to pursue photography, which he has always secretly loved to do and travel around Australia to key tourist destinations and find things that people often don’t notice and focus on them. He is in contact with his sister and her husband who are living in Melbourne, using this as a home base as he travels.
Preparation: quit his job, move in with sister, buys cameras, does TAFE course (meets possible love interest here), travels. The book he makes based on this will be called “What I found at the end of the road to no-where” (possible text title as well).
Sacrifices: initial and short term loss of income (he will need to eat thought a significant amount of savings) mates form job lost as they don’t understand him, arguments/strain on relationships with sister and new love interest as he travels.
Roadblocks: insecurities as he doubts his choices and abilities, car issues.
Talents & skills: handy (will be able to do seasonal farming to supplement income – staying for short burst in some places), ‘natural artists eye’ for photography, educated in a trade (electrician which is an employment he will return to).
What’s at stake: financial stability and relationships?
Cliché’s to avoid: that he creates a best seller (he creates a book but only published a few copies, publishers aren’t interested sending rejection letters, returns to electrical work - on shore developing relationships with love interest, sister. Sister gives a copy of book to good friend, a friend of theirs sees it and wants as they have links to publisher who becomes interested. Begins to take working holidays to do photography and does photography on demand whilst still doing electrical work. Art show).
Not only was this activity really entertaining, but as a group each of us found a whole new story unfolding simply by understanding a main characters motivation. This is an excellent activity to do when you are stuck for an idea of what next to write when between books or simply to challenge yourself creatively to get inside the mind and motivations of a character.
For further information please check out these great resources:
Character Motivation Thesaurus Example: Escape a killer
15 interesting motivations for heroes and villains
7 Tips for Character motivation
How to create believable characters
Let me know how you go with the activity in the comments.
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