How to motivate your character
I’ve found that pointing guns usually work pretty well to motivate characters. Works pretty well for actual people, too. At least, in the movies it does. Guns and physical violence will physically motivate your characters in the direction that you as the writer need them to go, but it is a much more effective story if you can motivate them to go on their own, to want to go.
Fear, love, lust, power, family. These are the keys to motivating anyone to action. This is the lynchpin where reality and fantasy meet; we strive to make our characters as relatable and empathic as possible. We have to give them real, logical flaws and motivations for our readers to identify with, whether they are human or vampire. The key to storytelling and motivating your specific character is finding the key to his/her motivation and twisting it until it unlocks.
Sounds deep and difficult? Sounds hard and heartbreaking? It is, and that’s why we write. To discover these flaws and to show others how to overcome them.
Even though we create these characters, sometimes it’s hard to really know what your character wants, to find the layer underneath (and there does need to be a layer underneath). In my novel, Violet Jordan wanted a quiet life that was her own. However, that was only on the surface. As we dug through her life and tested her, we discovered that she didn’t just want a life that was her own; she wanted a life to share with family that was truly hers. Though the surface want would have made for a nice story, the deeper want makes for a more powerful story.
The next step is to dangle what they want in front of them. Show them that there is a life beyond them that is happy and wonderful, where there is the exact kind of peace they have been looking for. For a while, Violet knew a small family and was finally getting on with the whole shifting thing. To deepen your story, let your character run freely towards what they want (getting them moving of their own accord) and then take the floor out from underneath them. Now, they have had a taste of what they want and will keep moving in that direction.
The last step in motivating you character is to actively prevent your character from getting what they want. Most of the time, this obstacle is internal, a demon that whispers in their ear that they are not good enough to get what they want. Of course, sometimes it’s a huge space ship with firearms that could nuke them into space dust. As you might have heard before, the obstacle you design not only has to be tailored to the story, but also more clearly define the want of the character. Like cogs in a clock, the two will join together and keep running of their own accord. For example, Violet’s ultimate test is not to just kill the bad guy who keeps trying to destroy her life, but she has to kill her “brother” to protect the family that she had built to fit into her new life.
Now, you can’t just throw your character into the pond without a paddle. Give them tools they need use to get what they need. Give them experiences and allies that will help them keep moving, keep fighting. But that’s a whole other post.
Luckily, these three steps work for the good guys as well as the bad guys and when you design two characters that are equally designed to hinder the other towards their wants, it is a beautiful cat and mouse game that will not only motivate your characters to keep fighting for their goals and motivate your readers to keep reading.
Violet Jordan Rule #1 of being a superhero: No tights.
By now you know I'm hardly a normal girl. Last night I woke up naked in an alley after fighting off some werewolves. All in a day's work, I guess. I thought I was dealing pretty well with the whole werepanther thing: the training, the apocalyptic prophecies. And the hot guy following me around, protecting me at every turn, is definitely a bonus. I'm even starting to become accustomed to the bloodshed and the violence—and that's what scares me. What will tomorrow bring…
Do you know what your characters really want? Leave a comment, with your email, and I’ll drop your name into a drawing to win $25 gift certificate to the e-book retailer of your choice.
And check out the cat and cat game of Diaries of an Urban Panther, available from Avon Impulse, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.