Posted in books, characters, creative writing, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Developing character motivation that draw the reader in

Understanding your characters’ motivation is key to developing strong characters.

 

dragonsOne of my favorite examples comes from one of my favorite childhood books, Princess Cimorene from “Dealing with Dragons.” She feels trapped in her life as a princess and is about to married off to a ridiculous prince, so she volunteers to be a “captive” princess for a dragon and ends up having all sorts of adventures while fending off knights who keep trying to “rescue” her.

Character motivation is the driving force behind what characters do and the choices they make. Motivations are based on needs. These are deep-seated needs that affect every aspect of their lives and psyches. They may be internal (psychological or existential) or external (survival).

Motivation spurs the character (and story) to keep moving, growing, and developing over time. Whatever need they have needs to be fulfilled, and making choices or taking action helps get them closer to that fulfillment. The steps the character takes to fulfill a need become major and minor plot points.

Motivation also makes a character more relatable. Every human has needs. Even though our individual needs vary, we all understand that desire to seek for something else, move forward, or find a better situation. Starting with a universal need helps reach a wide range of readers. That motivation can then be tailored to the character and story and narrowed down into something unique without losing reader interest.

Motivation provides characterization. It tells the reader something important about that character, such as how they were raised/treated, what cultural norms shaped their morals or values, what expectations they have for themselves or others, etc. Motivation also reveals important truths about character roles and how they fit in to the story.

Guy in khaki jacket leaning on wall with crossed hands. Close.up. Black

Every character needs a motivation, even side characters and antagonists. Side characters don’t need to be developed as deeply, and may only have a general need or motivation, but having something that drives them makes them more realistic. Antagonists act in frustrating or despicable ways for a reason. They are also trying to fulfill a motivation, often a self-serving or misguided one, but they must have a goal that directs their character arc in order to be realistic and engaging.

Motivations must be realistic. That doesn’t mean their end goal is realistic, but it has to be something a reader can believe the character is truly motivated by. Illogical, weak, or lazy motivations make characters aggravating and unrelatable. Motivations can easily be deluded, irrational, misguided, or even malicious. It’s important that the motivation comes from a base need that readers can understand, even if they don’t agree with or like it.

Goals and motivations are not the same thing. Motivation can lead to goals and steps that need to be taken. Goals are the end result, the fulfillment of a motivation. Motivation is what drives the character to keep moving toward a goal even when it’s incredibly difficult.

Characters can have multiple, and even conflicting, motivations. Humans are not rational creatures most of the time. We want things that keep us from reaching other goals all the time. We want things we know we can’t have. We self-sabotage. We want two things that can’t coexist together. Don’t shy away from making your character complex…within reason.

Death_to_stock_photography_Vibrant (9 of 10)

Posted in books, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Writing balanced action scenes

Writing action scenes can be extremely challenging due to their chaotic nature, the pacing, and the possible lack of firsthand knowledge. It’s also very easy for action to overtake a scene to the exclusion of the characters and story. Below are some tips to writing strong and balanced action scenes.

Man with Sword

Do NOT write an entire action scene as blow-by-blow description

This becomes tedious and confusing for the reader and slows the pace. Action must be balanced with description, exposition, internal dialogue, and emotional reflection.

Strive for clarity

If the reader can’t understand what’s going on because it’s too chaotic, they will likely miss the point of the scene. Use simple language and shorter sentences. Be clear about who is involved, where it happens, weapons/powers used, risks involved, and consequences.

Focus on the experience, not the individual action

Use all five senses to describe the action. Don’t rely solely on visual and physical elements. Tastes, smells, and sounds are important factors in action scenes. Make the character connect with and react to the devastation going on.

Know the purpose of the scene and write in a way that fulfills the purpose

Why something is happening is just as important, or more important than, what is happening. Makes sure the WHY is clear during an action scene so the reader knows what to pay attention to and absorbs information relevant to the purpose.

Pointing a gun at someone

Avoid the passive voice

The characters are involved in the fight scenes, it’s not happening to them as passive bystanders. The scene should be told through the character’s experience. For example, “Alan was punched by Greg” is a passive description while “Greg punched Alan” is an active description. In the first example, something HAPPENS TO Alan while in the second description Greg actively TAKES action.

Use action scenes as opportunities to explore a character’s motivations and goals

Why do they fight or make the choices they do in the scene and what is the source of that action or decision? Guns are pulled at pointed at people for no reason. It may be a panicked reaction in the moment, or a lifestyle that breeds that type of reaction as instinctual. There are also consequences to taking action. Does the character consider the consequences first, or are they too in the moment to think beyond it?

Make action unique

Use different settings (going into a gunfight from a stairwell presents different challenges than bursting through a window). Vary the number of people involved (a one-on-one fight will play out much differently that two groups battling). Change the tempo (a chase scene has different pacing than a single explosion). Give them different weapons (a spontaneous fight using items lying around has a very different feel than fighters trained to use particular weapons). Create different goals for each scene (rescuing someone requires different types of action than wantonly killing everyone in the room).

Integrate action into a story to drive the plot forward, improve characterization, and provide excitement.