Sunday, October 10, 2010

Motivation: Making Your Characters Sweat

Goals. I have plenty. You should have a couple, too. You know, if you want to get ahead in life and stuff...

Anyway. Goals. Like I said, people have them. And so should your characters.

Why? Because whatever drives your character will drive the story forward. 

That's why I've chosen to talk a bit about character motivations today. 

There are 3 things you should consider whenever brainstorming character motivations:

1) The what- Character motivations come in all shapes and sizes. Maybe John Doe wants to buy his daughter a pony, but the specific pony the daughter wants is uber-expensive and is only sold in Denmark. Tough luck for John Doe. But even though his goal is hard to reach, he's going to sweat to get it. And since you like John Doe because he is so nice and funny and smart, you're going to keep turning those pages to see if he gets his hands on that Danish pony. 

Even though the what is very important, it's not enough. You also need...

2) The why- Mary Doe, John's daughter, is sick. She's dying a slow, painful death, and all she wants is a freakin' Danish pony. She's John's only daughter. The light in his eyes. The reason he breathes. And for that, he's going to grant her dying wish. Not only must you make your character's what something that makes sense for the story, but the why needs to be believable as well. Just think of my example: would John go through all this trouble for someone he didn't care about? Heck no. That wouldn't make sense. UNLESS that someone he doesn't care about is holding Mary Doe at gunpoint and makes John go after the Danish pony in order to save her. Either way, he's doing it for Mary, not for Random Character He Doesn't Care About. 

Okay. You have your what, then you discover your why. Now all you need is...

3) The how- This is where that whole speech on driving your story forward comes into play. John Doe has a goal (what) and a motivation (why), but how will he get it? Through choices. Every single step John takes to get closer to that Danish pony is the result of a decision. It can be something he already had in mind, or a spur of the moment kind of thing. Either way, you have to piece all those choices out on your manuscript in a cohesive way. For example, John will dig into his savings account, come up short for the trip expenses, so he sells his ginormous action figure collection. Bingo--one-way ticket to Europe. Okay. When he gets to Europe, he gets into a cab. The driver is cruising through a barely-lit tunnel, humming "California Gurls" by Katy Perry. But then the driver has a heart attack and steers the cab toward a wall. John Doe is left barely alive. How will he get that pony now????

For me, the how is the most frustrating and fun part about writing. But rest assured, you can do it. All it takes is a lot. Of. Patience. 

My advice for keeping readers hooked? Make your characters sweat. Make them want something that holds special meaning for them. And always make them choose ways that will help them get it. Even if you ruin the journey for them with a few curve balls. 

Have a great week, everyone!


  1. Well said!!! Making characters sweat is something that really makes the reader more involved! Great advice!

  2. Awesome post! A must-have list for all writers, especially when completing a first draft. :)

  3. So good! I love it when you break it down for me, Amparo! Thank you! Now I'm off to apply this to my current WIP. Make 'em sweat, and make it mean something.

    You rock!

  4. At first, when I read the title of this post, I read it as "Making Your Characters Sweet". Course making them sweat is even better. ;) Great post, Amparo!

  5. Oh yeah, makin' it tough for your character makes for a better story! (Even though it hurts to do it, LOL!) Nice post!

  6. Awesome post! I love ambitious characters because they have goals, and you don't want to make it easy on them. It makes for great stories. :)

  7. Can you get me a Danish pony? I just ordered Goals, Moitvation and Conflict, by Debbie..oh shoot, someone, and I hear its GRREAT!!!

  8. Amparo, this is a great post. I like that expression, "make them sweat," because it means make them worry AND make them work -- they have to do the legwork.

  9. THANKS!! I have NO idea where that whole Danish pony thing came from, but I'm glad it's good for something :D


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