Saturday, 7 November 2015

Let's Talk About Motivation - The Great Tome of Character Development #1

We're slap bang in the middle of NaNo right now, so motivating ourselves is at the forefront of our minds.

Some of us do it with chocolate.

Some of us do it with coffee.

(And some of us go and bake, and don't bother at all.)

She says that like I'm not on par.

(If you don't write tomorrow, you won't be.)

This is what I have to put up with. Every. Single. Day.

Anyway, my point is that we put massive amounts of effort into motivating ourselves. We make six hour playlists. We draw our characters in painstaking detail. We bake giant trays of brownies.

But how much thought do we put into what motivates our characters?

Source

Well, that was rude. I'm not suggesting that you don't know what motivates them. Whether they're trying to save the world, cure their friend's terminal illness, or just get their hands on that thousand pound pair of shoes from Gucci, nine times out of ten what our protagonist wants will drive the plot.

But have you considered why they want it?

Source
 (Looks like you've got them there.)

Of course I have. It's NaNo season. You name ANYTHING writing-related and someone'll have forgotten about it.

That's why I opened this great, dusty tome in the first place.

(Wait. Great dusty tome? What great dusty tome?)

The one that I found in the attic.

(What attic? When were you even in an attic? Wait. Was that what you were doing this afternoon when you said you had way too much work to write?)

No. Don't be ridiculous. That doesn't sound like me at all.

Anyway, you should be glad I found this tome up there - look how pretty it is. All green leather, black paper and spidery gold etching. It'll look great on our bookshelf. And, more to the point, it's an ancient collection of forbidden writings on character development. Everything we'll ever need to know to fully develop our characters is written down within these torn pages.

(Uh huh. And you just happened to find it in a random attic?)

Ask me no questions, and I'll tell you fewer lies. 

Now let's see. 
Character motivation...page two hundred and seventy three...

(If it's so forbidden, why does it have a contents page?)

What did I say about questions? 
Two hundred and seventy...seventy two...ah! Here.

Take a moment to think about yourself. 
What do you want out of life?   
Why?
Chances are, you can't think of a reason. If it's something you've wanted since you were a small child, it's lost in the dark recesses of your mind. If it's something particuarly fun or exciting, that's reason enough.   

But not in fictionland.  

In fictionland, people are expected to have reasons.
For example, Katniss Everdeen wants to survive the Hunger Games because she promised her sister she'd win. 
Yoh Asakura wants to become the Shaman King so he can have an easy life.
Kennedy Waters wants to be a member of the Legion so she'll fit in with her friends.

Sometimes it's easier than others. 
Characters who're dying want to live.
Characters who're outcasts want to be accepted for who they are.
Characters who're lost want to get home.
Nobody is going to question these, even if you don't explain them, because they're basic human needs. Everyone has them. They're great for building relatable characters.

Other times it's harder.
Take the Gucci shoes example I made earlier. 
You could simply have:
Alice, the leader of a high school clique, wants to buy the glittery red shoes because she borderline worships the model who wore them on the catwalk. 
This is an understandable motive for Alice.

(Sure. If you like shoes.)

But it's also kind of boring. And stereotypical. Especially when you consider:
Alice, the leader of a high school clique, wants to steal the shoes, a top secret weapon, from a steel vault deep in the Russian mountains because she's being blackmailed.
This creates more questions. What is Alice so desperate to hide, for one. Is it really worth risking her life and freedom for? How does an ordinary high school girl get to the Russian mountains? How can shoes be a weapon? What do they actually do? Who does she have with her?

Wow. I think I just created an entire plot there without even meaning to.

(Power of a good motive.)

So what is it that your main characters want? Why? And how's your NaNo going? Are you on par? Racing ahead? Desperately trying to catch up?   
Please leave your thoughts, theories, moans and groans in the comments.