Character Motivation

Novelists must answer the what, where and how the character does something. But the biggest question is WHY.
Writing Tip for Today: Motivation is a key element in novel writing. The writer must understand the character in many ways, but knowing why he/she would do or not do something, why he/she’s stuck or mad or hurt, why she’s hiding things all adds up to motivation. To help get you closer to answering the whys of your novel, do some work around the edges:

  • Let your character speak to you in a letter or journal entry.
  • Put character in a situation. How does that character react? Let’s say a ten year-old boy doesn’t say much but acts distrusting and suspicious. How would he react to a kind and generous offer of help?
  • Now, list the reasons for that reaction. He trusts little after his dad was killed in a bar-room fight. He’s hard-of-hearing and doesn’t read lips. He’s an arrogant trust fund kid.
  • If you portray a character a certain way, you are giving the reader a personality–a stereotype if you will. It’s up to you the writer to either write to that stereotype or (preferred) create a particular character who is so life-like that the reader accepts what you write. But first, you need to understand your character’s motivation in ways no reader can imagine. 

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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