Saturday, April 14, 2012

A to Z Challenge: More Than Meets the Eye

Today is actually related to my A post. Characters have to be realistic. For that to be possible, they have to act and sound realistic.

Sounds easy, right? Well... yes and no. Because while characters react in certain ways, they also react in certain ways to certain people and situations.

Why? Well... because some people and situations people love. Others they absolutely hate.

It all comes down to motivation. Which is where today's headline comes from. In reality, very few people can see other people's motivations. Even those they love. So most people of forced to take things at face value.

You as writer, can't rely on that when it comes to your characters. Because your readers need to see into the character's soul. They need at least a glimpse. Well... maybe need is a bit of a strong word, but do you really want your reader to wonder why two characters are fighting?

You know those (effing) books that you struggle through because the whole conflict in the story is about two characters arguing about reasons unknown? Or worse, a stupid reason. Yeah. Textbook motivation issue. (Bonus fact for new writers: in fiction, conflict is NOT about characters bickering. See last year's A to Z C post.)

I actually wrote a whole post on motivation that you can read here, for more detail and info on how to use motivation. Today's focus is on fixing it in edits.

Firstly, you need to know what you're fixing. Motivation isn't the reason why characters do things. It's the reason behind the reason (sometimes behind that reason too) why characters do and think things. See it as the main route of ALL decisions, actions, thoughts and ideals. So no... it's not anger, fear or a dream either. It's the reason behind those. Basically, to find motivation, you need to play the why game. You take something a character does or thinks or whatever and wonder: Why? If you get that answer, you ask again. And again. And again. Until you can't go back further.

Then, you need to make sure that (at least in the beginning) everything tracks back to the same motivations. Because if they don't, your character has multiple personality disorder. Of course, there are some times that a character acts out. For example someone with major-trust issues overcoming their issues and letting someone into their circle. That's fine. Just don't do it lightly. And give the reader a road-map to how and why it happened at some point in the story. If you don't, the reader will just be confused.

Okay... back to the conflict problem mentioned above. If characters don't like each other, make sure it's for a good reason. I think it's best if the dislike comes out of their motivation, because then it flows naturally out of who the characters are. Never will the bickering feel contrived. If it's based on anything less than the motivation, make sure that it stays as close to the motivation as possible.

So yes, even if the reader can't always see the motivation, make sure you always keep it in mind when editing. More than anything, motivation is the anchor that keeps everything real and believable.

Look Out for These:

1) Crit partners and Betas pointing something out as seeming contrived in some way.

2) Your "why's" not adding up to the same character when they're supposed to.

3) A problem that's rooted in a character's motivation being overcome without emotional (or other) turmoil.

Do you get to know your character before hunting for their motivations or do you build your characters around motivations of your chosing?


  1. Good post. I think I'm pretty weak when it comes to motivation; it's something I have to concentrate on, and honestly, I haven't really considered the 'layers' behind motivation. :) Thanks! And thanks for visiting my blog too.

  2. I usually try to get to know my characters before figuring out their motivations, but sometimes they surprise me and take on a life of their own. Thank you for sharing Misha - have a great weekend! :)

  3. I think, just like in real life - you have to get to know the person/character before knowing what motivates the person. When you know a persons motivation then you have something to work with.

    It doesn't take very much to motivate me- seldom do I need anything outside of the inner me to accomplish motivation.

    I do however think building your character around motivations of your own choosing can be a real challenge - and a lot more work; the challenge can be exciting and a motivator!

    Have a great weekend!

  4. I agree. For me reading and writing are all about the characters!

  5. For me, fiction is ALL about the characters. Getting to their core is all about authors figuring it out. It's our job, whatever method we use. Great "M" post.

  6. I do hate reading a novel that is trying to be so sophisticated that they've hidden the plot completely including the characters motivations. But I do love clever reveals.

  7. Oh gosh, a character with multiple personalities! Readers often stop reading, as you say, because they can't relate to the characters and that is probably my biggest concern when writing.

  8. Great post. My current character is motivated to the hilt, but something is still not adding up. I'm hoping a few day-dream days will help me iron out the kinks.

  9. Yes, great point! I love how you pointed out that motivations aren't the immediate why ("because she was angry") but the motivations behind that and that and so on. When I create characters, I make sure I know their entire backstory, including early childhood, so I know what would affect them most and how.

  10. You're right! Characters need to be believable; there has to be a reason for everything. Every bit of dialog must push the story (action) forward.


  11. Hi,
    Thank you for stopping by my M-point. Have a great weekend!
    Best wishes,

    For the benefit of other readers:
    Anna's A-Z, the letter M

  12. Thanks for more food for thought.

  13. "M" is for Misha and that's plenty of Motivation for Me. And speaking of Motivation, my shy, humble and unassuming site, posted up the letter "M" on Friday the 13th. Not bad, considering I'm not involved in this here challenge :)
    Seriously, all the best and once again, you bring up some excellent points.
    With respect and happy writing, your way, Gary

  14. They need a detailed background to provide a reason why they are doing it, why they are motivated, as well.

  15. Yes characters need real motivations. I get frustrated when secondary characters put themselves out just to make sure the main characters end up together. There needs to be a reason they help.
    Wagging Tales

  16. Great blog!! Motivations need to be the driving force behind our characters and they need to be strong, realistic ones.

  17. Great motivator, this post. Am following.

    Please have a look at my blog. Author of the Bella and Britt series for kids.

  18. Thank you for this helpful post.
    For me motivation is key. Sometimes it's the first thing I learn about my characters--even before their names.

  19. Fantastic post! I love the writers who can do this so well that, even if their character says one thing out loud, we (the readers) know them well enough to know they actually mean something else entirely. Because we can see through to their real motivation or soul (great term!).

  20. Interesting take on motivation for writers. Characters are important to any story second to plot. If you don't understand the motivation of your characters then they will just drift along in the story and the end user, us readers, will be able to pick up on that the writer did not develop the character completely.

    Thanks great post! I'm visiting from A to Z Challenge.

    Still Dating My Spouse

  21. Great post! Motivations dictate a character's actions, make them relatable and compelling, and allows room for character development.

    J.C. Martin
    A to Z Blogger

  22. Awesome post. I reckon awesome characters need interesting challenges to help them explore the strange and wonderful sensations of the storyarc. .


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