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?
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.
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?