Character Motivation: How Does Your Protagonist Think?

Most novels are best told in a scenic way. As readers, we get to watch the action unfold. Have you ever stopped to consider how your protagonist thinks? What’s your character’s main motivation? It’s more important to know than you might realize.
Writing Tip for Today: In your protagonist’s viewpoint, we get sensory information (concrete sensory detail or CSD) as the character acts. At the same time, the reader needs to understand at least a hint of how and why this main character does what he/she does. Knowing a character’s motivation, what drives him and what she’s after must also be evident by that character’s reactions to the scene and other characters in the scene. Sometimes, a character’s reactions say more about motivation than her actions.
Let’s follow this action/reaction component in writing a typical scene:
Main character A is in a scene where she is at cross-purposes with another character B. Character A acts (says or does something)
Character B reacts by acting (saying or doing) something that raises the stakes.
Character A first reacts to what just happened through sensory and body language info or by interior thought.
Character A is now faced with a dilemma. Raise, call or fold? Should A keep pushing, quit or decide it doesn’t matter?*
Last, Character A decides what she’ll do next. The action begins again.

*A draw or tie or deciding it doesn’t matter is hardly ever good for fiction.

Try This! Take a scene you’ve drafted and identify the places where your main character goes through reaction, dilemma and decision. Why does your protagonist think and react this way? Do you know your character’s main motivation?

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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