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Friday, May 9, 2008

Writing Tip: Character Motivations

What is it about school talent show auditions that will get even the quietest of children to stand on stage and belt out a show tune?   Or a group of "cool" boys to collaborate on a comedic skit. 

This is the second year I attended the talent show auditions of my children's school. Overall, it's a great program and the teachers will throw out any of the children if there is any irreverent behavior.  It's wonderful watching the children clap and shout out encouragements to one another, no matter what.  I hate to say this, but it's also fascinating to watch the undercurrents of competition and conflict during the auditions.  This is a talent show after all.  And not all talents are created alike.

There's always the over-enthusiastic parent, who hopes their child is the next Hannah Montana.  The girl who is a fantastic singer who chooses singing partners who aren't as good.  There's the in-fighting, the tears, the shame, the panic attacks.  All because of the end goal: getting into the talent show.

What is so wonderful about having real-life exposure to a "big" event like this, is that if you're a writer, it gives you a camera view of how people really act and react in a conflict-driven environment.  And it helps give insight to character motivations, which is important to your plot.  Even though character motivation is a part of what makes the reader interested in your story, it's what helps give your work substance. 

I spend so much time analyzing my characters, getting to know who they are.  I enjoy character development and discovering their psychological motivations.  Just like people, our characters need to have goals and the motivation to reach them.  Otherwise, there is no depth to them and they would be boring to read about.

These are the questions I think about, as I develop my character motivations:
  1. What drives a character to do what they do--what is it they need? 
  2. What are they trying to achieve? 
  3. How much time do they have to get this done? 
  4. What happens when something gets in their way?

What helps you define your character motivations?


Nowheymama said...

Off topic: Thank you so much for all of your encouraging blog posts. You remind me to keep at it, and to be happy about small writing accomplishments (like the one I posted about today! as well as large ones.

Christine M said...

HWM - you always have such great tips and motivations! Thanks!

The Cole Mine said...

Isn't people watching the greatest thing for a writer? So inspiring-

I like to think about what one event in a character's past most influenced who they have become.

PJ Hoover said...

I like keeping in mind what my characters are afraid of. It helps me define what will get in the way of reaching their goals.

m. thompson said...

Good things to think about, HWM!

Like PJ, I like thinking about the fears. I also look at their safety nets.

Patty P said...

This is one of the most important things a writer needs to think about before or during the writing process. For my first MG, I spent countless hours creating goal worksheets/motivation charts/graphs all for the purpose of discovering who my character was. It wasn't until I borrowed a copy of Donald Maass's "Writing the Breakout Novel" workbook, that I really got it. It's a fantastic process to go through if you have a completed first draft.
As always, another great post!

MotherReader said...

I think my child is the next Hannah Montanah, so if you need some insight into my motivation, shoot me a line. I think what becomes the easy stereotype, is that the mom is living through the kid. But when I think about it in terms of my daughter's talent, I'm just so proud of her gift that I want to share it with everyone. It adds a whole layer to "stage mom" doesn't it? (That said, she's only been in two talent shows, four years apart, neither of which had winners.)

I love how you take the experiences around you to dig into what makes people tick.

Little Willow said...

Fantastic writing tips all this week!

Hurrah for young talent.

debrennersmith said...

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