Paula thinks about character motivation.
Character motivation is
important in any story, since it influences the way a character acts or reacts
in different situations. Different characters react differently, of course, and
their motivation can result from any one (or more) of a variety of factors
–upbringing, environment, personality traits, previous experiences, present
life situation, hopes for the future, etc.
Motivation gives a character
the reason to behave a in certain way. Why, for example, does Mary hate John? If
there is no reason for her to hate him, the reader will be bewildered. So the
writer has to decide on Mary’s reason i.e. her motivation. Did he treat her
badly in the past? Did he insult her mother? Did he cause problems for her at
work? All of these are valid reasons that might affect her attitude to him. Or
there might be more complex reasons. Did his father, a banker, foreclose a loan
which caused her father’s small business to collapse? Are their families from
different social or political or religious backgrounds?
Of course, there doesn’t have
to be some deep and meaningful motivation for everything a character does or
says. Why does Jane decide to wear her blue dress for the party? It could be
simply because she likes that dress! Nothing at all to do with her upbringing
or previous experiences or future hopes!
However, a character’s main
motivations, either openly discernible or underlying, shape his or her personality,
and by letting readers understand these motivations, we enable them to
understand our characters.
Antagonists, too, must have
some motivation to behave as they do. We can’t simply throw a character into
the story to create mayhem or to cause a split between the hero and heroine
without giving them some reason for their actions.
However, too much emphasis on
any one reason for a character’s motivation can end up annoying the reader.
Also, it’s not always necessary to spell it out to readers or beat them over
the head with it. Sometimes a suggestion can be far more powerful than a
Recently I read some pointers
about conflict in novels. One of these was, Give
your protagonist two motives They must sacrifice one to achieve the other.
I must admit I dislike the
word ‘sacrifice’ since to me it suggests giving up something the character
needs or wants. I prefer to think of it as the character realising which motive
is more important to them. And sometimes, since we want a happy ending for our
characters, they may find in the end that the two motives can in fact be
merged, even though this might have seemed impossible at one time.