Motivation—Digging Deep



When we’re plotting our stories and creating our characters, one of the big questions we must ask ourselves is “What is the motivation for this character’s actions?” Hopefully, we’ve established an ultimate goal for our hero/heroine and we’ve figured out what the conflict is for our story, but motivation takes thought and planning if we want our story to be believable. I mean why would our heroine fall for our surly, uncooperative, and maddeningly stubborn hero—other than his hot bod and cute dimples?

Cute dimples are not enough.

There has to be a deeper meaning behind the motivation or the story comes across as shallow and flat. For readers to relate to our characters, we need to create three dimensional, fleshed out characters that have reasons for what they do.  Not only for our hero and heroine to fall in love, but for EVERY action they take. Think of each scene in terms of goal, motivation and conflict. What do they want, why do they want it, and what is keeping them from getting it? If you haven’t read Deb Dixon’s Goal, Motivation, and Conflict, I highly recommend it.

Sometimes the motivation comes from back story. Maybe our hero grew up on the streets and doesn’t trust anybody. Maybe our heroine had a father who walked out on her when she was a kid. The conflict between our characters would be that neither of them knows how to trust. The emotional goal might be that they both really just want to be loved and have a home. But the underlying motivation for them wanting this is that neither of them felt loved and wanted as children. Our heroine is searching for the love and security that she missed out on as a kid (attraction to an emotionally inaccessible man), and our hero wants to belong but maybe doesn’t feel worthy. You want to keep this in mind for each scene so you can use the underlying emotion and motivation to drive their actions and keep them in conflict.

When I have a scene that seems flat or I’m not sure where to go next with my characters I come back to the questions, “What is behind the motivation for this scene? Why are they doing this? What do they want and why do they want it? If I can’t answer these questions about my characters, I put myself in their shoes and invariably, the answer comes to me.

We are all observers of human behavior and as artistic types, most of us are prone to introspection about our own motives for what we do.

Does our history define our motives?

We need only to reach inside ourselves to find the deeper meaning behind the motivations of our characters. On some level our characters come from our own experiences, so feel free to play psychiatrist if you need to, and don’t be afraid to dig deep! When the emotional dust settles, you’ll be glad you did. And so will your characters.

Do you know what motivates the characters in your current WIP?


18 thoughts on “Motivation—Digging Deep”

  1. First off, where can I get the Freud action figure?? That thing is a riot.

    And I always know my characters and their GMCs. I spend more time on character development, plotting, and pre-work than on the actual writing. By the time I’m done planning, the writing part is easy in comparison, but it’s well worth it. I don’t have those moments where I get stuck halfway through the middle of the book wondering what happens next or what would my hero or heroine do. So far, this has worked best for me and I plan on sticking with it!

  2. Hi PJ,
    I am with Casey on this one. Before I write the novel, I already know. However, if I come to a point where I should get a brain freeze, the first thing I do is ask myself what I would do if I were in the character’s shoes in a particular situation. And more than that, what would my character do? I’m in the process of editing right now and this post will be helpful. Thanks.

  3. Well, ladies, I tend to be more of a panster so I have to ask myself these questions a lot. I will take a page from both of your books and perhaps spend more time in preperation. I’ve learned to get a general idea of GMC but find that it changes from scene to scene sometimes as the characters grow on me.

    Casey, like you, I work out at least my turning points so that I don’t get stuck wondering where the plot will go, but I still have to remind myself not to get too far away from making my characters real on the page by giving them strong motives for everything they do. It’s easy to forget sometimes.

    1. Haha! I have a hoarder story too, another WIP. But mine is humorous, not horror (though you might disagree if you saw the inside of her trash can lid, her toilet bowl, and what’s in her freezer!). Actually, my heroine’s more disorganized than an actual hoarder, but she does have a lotta, lotta stuff. Can’t wait to read your short story, Jennifer! I love horror.

  4. I have a Jane Austen action figure! She has a quill pen and a little writing desk. I like to think if she had to fight off a drunken Mr. Wickham or a marauding highwayman, she could stab him with the quill or brain him with the desk. 🙂 Here’s what she looks like, in case you just have to have one too. For my second Bonaparte Bay novel (in progress, stalled now but it’s my NaNoWriMo project) I already know many of the characters and their G and M from the 1st book, so it’s just a matter of adding C. And I have plenty of that lined up! There are some new characters, and I know exactly where they fit and why they’re doing what they’re doing. I’m also setting up for the 3rd book, where all will be revealed! We all know I’m a pantser like PJ, but I’m sorta recovering from that. I don’t think it’s really possible when doing a series to completely pants it.

  5. Thanks Terry!

    Way cool on the Horror short story Fusco. I’ll be writing a spooky short story for a WG2E anthology next fall. I’m very excited about stretching my writing muscles and honored to be included in the project. I may be asking you for tips!

    Jane, Baby! I can’t wait to read the whole series! I love Georgie. And despite my disdain of clutter, I love your horder story too. Your character could easily be any one of us on a given day.

  6. Great post! I’ve been reading a lot lately about making your characters believable and multi-dimensional – just like real people. Asking myself WHY they do what they do, what motivates them to act, is a big part of that. Having a reason and a goal for every scene can be tough but otherwise we lose interest and so does our reader. Enjoyed reading this.

  7. Thanks, Patti. I think this is one of those details that can really make the difference between a good story and a great story. There is so much to learn about the craft of writing, I’m glad we can all learn from each other.

  8. Just what the doctor ordered, and I don’t mean Freud but my editor. Question of the day for me seems to be what’s the motivation? Ugh!

    I do a lot of characterization plotting, but sometimes what I start out with changes along the way and I write myself into a corner and wonder how the heck I got there.

    I’m baby-stepping back right now to figure it out, while I’m also plotting my NaNo book for November, while I’m also revising my first ms to submit to the Golden Heart…I think I’m on overload. 😦

    Thanks, PJ, for a great post!! Really, you have no idea.

  9. Oh, but I do…I love when that thing we need most lands in our lap…or laptop as it were. I hear you on the overload. Definitely not enough hours in a day. Good luck with revisions. I’ll be entering HIFH in the Golden Heart myself. That should be interesting.

  10. For me, my characters are no-brainers. My characters are taken from true life. I only have to add zip! Well, zip, not code related, takes some tripping, but it is challenging, creative, and complicated. Thanks for the post.

  11. Great Gail. Characters are the meat and potatoes of our story, so we need to get them right. It’s best when we can draw from real life experiences. I like the idea of adding “zip”!

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