making your characters make sense
Having some theatrical background, when I think of motivation, the first thought going through my head is ‘What is my character’s motivation?’ Writers need the same thing. What your characters do needs to make sense.
Picture this – a rich man, with all the luxuries he can imagine, finds out his best friend and wife have been carrying on, and when he confronts them, they taunt him saying he’s pathetic and that no one respects him and he can’t run his family or company with any competence. He kicks them out then decides that they’re right. No one does respect him and he can’t do anything right. And if that’s so, then he will just shun high society and his riches and live on the street. And he actually follows through with it and gives up everything. Does it make sense? Not unless there is something in the background of this man we don’t know about.
But what if that man came from a poor background, and remembers the good times despite having no money, and longs for simpler days. Yes, then we might see that he could do something like this.
Hm, as a matter of fact, I might just have made up something that will turn into a short story – but I digress.
Strive to make your characters more than one-dimensional cardboard cut-outs. Make them real people who react in ways that make sense. For example, sudden changes of heart that aren’t explained or shown won’t be believed. A hardened murderer who doesn’t murder when he’s supposed to, or would want to, needs a good motivation to justify it to the reader.
So get into your characters’ heads and find out what makes them tick.
originally published in The Sword Review 2006-01-31