Well, here we are at my last blog entry for the Year 2011. I really can’t believe how fast the year has flown! It seems like only yesterday (even though it was six months ago) I decided to start this weekly writing blog. Many thanks to everyone who has read, shared, commented on, and hopefully enjoyed my entries!
This entry is about motivation. Not writer motivation, although that’s very important (see “10 Ways to Get Inspired” for more details), but character motivation.
In a well-written tale, the characters are the ones who are driving the story. Their actions and reactions to events should be natural, make sense, and push the action forward. Poor writers make this careful manipulation look obvious, forced, or irrational. Good writers make it appear seamless and reasonable. Even if a character behaves in a seemingly irrational manner, there is a solid explanation for it or circumstances that force the character to make a choice that they ordinarily would not make.
You have to think of your characters as people, and people have wants, needs, desires, prejudices, and fears that drive what we do, that shape our thoughts and actions, whether we are aware of them or not. And you may be surprised at how many of your own fears, wants, and prejudices show up in your characters and stories, often unintentionally.
The best example I can think of for myself relates to Ryn from The Mariner Sequence. Now, on the surface, Ryn is nothing like me. She’s a beautiful kick-ass warrior and military tactician with nerves of steel and a dry wit. I am, like, the complete opposite of that. So I was very surprised to find over the course of writing her that we both share similar motivations in life. We both have a very strong sense of duty and hierarchy that gives strict structure to our lives and our primary motivation in life is rooted in fear.
Fear shapes Ryn’s inner world. The fear of failure and the fear of loss. I think the fear of loss is probably stronger in her since it’s the stronger emotion in me. The fear of losing loved ones, of losing control, of losing one’s place and definition in life. So much of Ryn’s life is defined by duty and loss that when the worst happens, she doesn’t really know what to do. She goes on autopilot and retreats because she can’t process or accept the loss of duty and definition. This period doesn’t last long, but it still is a realization of her worst fears and it almost breaks her.
I haven’t had to face the same decisions that Ryn does. I haven’t been forced to choose between love and duty. But it’s a possibility that haunts me, influencing my reactions and decisions, which, in turn gives me fuel for Ryn. Because my emotions are genuine, they end up feeling genuine for Ryn as well. Both of our motivations are real and all-too human, which gives The Mariner Sequence emotional authenticity. At least, that is my hope.
When considering your characters, always keep their background and motivation in mind. Draw on a range of human emotions and try to figure out what emotion fuels their reactions and decisions. Use your own fears, hopes, desires, and prejudices as building blocks. It is often said in writing that you should “Write what you know,” which discourages a lot of younger writers because “My life isn’t interesting” or “Nothing exciting ever happens to me!” I’ve expressed those sentiments myself. But then I learned that writing what you know doesn’t necessarily have to be an actual experience or event. The emotions engendered by those events are the real keys to realism in your characters’ motivation. As literary representations of humans, your characters need to be as realistic as possible to grab your readers’ sympathies and pull them into your story.