Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Character's Story

One of the keys to making your story interesting is to create characters that will pull in the reader.  As mentioned last week, we do this by giving each character a goal to work toward.

But we can't stop there.  We need to give that character a reason for the goal.  That reason is called the WHY.  If you're familiar with Debra Dixon's GMC: Goal, Motivation & Conflict, you know that the WHY is the character's motivation.

Once you have the character's goal (what the character wants) and the character's motivation (why the character wants it), all the pieces begin to fall into place and the story starts to take shape.

Sounds easy, doesn't it?  At first glance, it is.  Let's say the protagonist wants a better job [goal], because the one he has isn't making him happy [motivation].  Or is making him unhappy, however you want to look at it.  That's a reasonable goal.  A lot of us have been there at one point in our lives.  But there isn't a lot of punch in that.  Kind of a ho-hum goal and reason, and not something that will catch a reader's attention and cheer for the character.

Sometimes it takes knowing the character a little better.  The heroine in The Truth About Plain Jane (Silhouette Romance 2004) had a similar goal.  She worked in the office of a well-known travel magazine, hoping and wishing to become a reporter for the magazine.  In addition to wanting a more exciting career--one she was certain she could do well--she needed more income so she could move the aunt who had raised her to a climate that was better for the aunt's asthma.  It wasn't simply because she wanted more money.  She had a legitimate reason, plus her motivation was unselfish.

Sometimes it isn't easy as it might look, and you're stumped on what the character's motivation for the goal might be.  I've found that the best place to "look" is the character's backstory.  Ask yourself (or your characters!) what kind of childhood he or she had.  Was he an only child of wealthy parents?  Was she the middle sister of three born to parents who had to struggle to put food on the table?  What was the character's education?  What were the character's dreams for the future?  Was there an incident that shaped the character and led to the current goal?

Learning about characters is part of the joy of writing.  Manipulating them is even more fun!  Get to know your characters in whatever way works best.  Some people fill out character charts, some do character interviews.  If you don't know what works for you, give several a try.  You can find pre-made character charts online by using the search words *character trait charts* or you can make up your own.  As with everything, discover what works best for you, use it, and update when needed.   You'll be glad you did and will find that you'll soon be writing stronger, more interesting stories.
"I will go to my grave in a state of abject endless fascination that we all have the capacity to become emotionally involved with a personality that doesn't exist."  ― Berkeley Breathed
(GMC: Goal, Motivation & Conflict can be purchased online at Gryphon Books for Writers.) 

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