Wednesday, September 21, 2011

why Do Your Characters Do What They Do?

Character motivation is a big thing when it comes to storytelling. Actually, what I should say is that poorly executed character motivation is a big reason for seeing the big rejection letter coming back from me.

This is really a bit pet peeve of mine, but too often, I see stories that initally have some great potential, but, in the end, the entire project is brought to a screeching halt with all of the backstory and drama the writer has added just to give the characters motivation. I do think much of this comes from critique partners who are giving authors bad advice.

Think of the real world here. Why do you do the things you do? If you are overly organized or a neat freak, where did you get that from? Was it because you came from a disfunctional family and an abusive relationship? Did it result from paranormal activity that forced you to behave this way? Probably not. In all liklihood, it stemmed from your personality. It is just how you are.

Now think about your stories. If your heroine is tough and wants to take charge, she doesn't have to come into the story with a lot of baggage. Maybe she was just raised that way. Her present day life doesn't have to be something she is out to prove because of her past.

I always recommend to authors to keep things simple. We don't need the extra stuff to make the story interesting. You can simply have the character, or someone else make the comment "she has always been this way." That's it.

Now, with all of that word count you have gotten rid of, you can spend it on great character development.



  1. Great advice, Scott - thanks! I struggle with back story as a motivating factor so I found this most helpful. Thanks, again.

  2. You're so spot on. I hate having to explain to crit partners that well, they just are that way. Seems these days in New Adult and Young Adult, you almost have to have some big traumatic secret, or people will think your story is boring, or that you didn't explain why your character does what she does. It does trivialize child abuse, especially sexual abuse, when used as a gimmick in a romance, because I always wonder why this particular hero can suddenly turn the heroine into a wildcat and what happened to all the abuse that caused her to be whatever way she was? Ugh, not explaining myself well, but I cringe at all of those types of backstories.

    Thanks for the fresh air, although if I try it, I'll probably miss out on the great big secret reveal tactic. :)