July 31, 2013

The Heart of the Story: Part 1

Today I want to talk about character motivation.*

Ever read a book where it seemed the characters had been squashed into a predetermined plot, and they ran around doing things without ever showing why?

A first draft with characters acting like the author's puppets is fine, in my opinion, but by the second draft, it's time to cut the strings. During revision I try to refer to the following checklist so I don't end up with a story worse than PUPPET MASTER X: AXIS RISING. (I had to consult Google to find out "stupidest Puppet Master movie.")


  1. Do I understand what the character wants?
  2. Do I understand what the character subconsciously wants?
  3. Do I understand why the character wants both of those things?
  4. Have I done enough showing so the reader understands 1 through 3 as well as I do? 
  5. Does each major step in the plot proceed logically from characters' trying to get what they want? 
Hint: Review 1 through 5 for each major character, including the antagonist.

Another hint: While the author must understand character motivation, that doesn’t mean the character should always have crystal clear self-understanding and spend a lot of interior monologue self-therapizing.** The author can help the reader understand the characters’ wants by dramatizing in scene how these motivations sneak out and reveal themselves in action.

So does this list help you at all? And what's the stupidest horror movie you've ever seen?

* I hope you didn't follow my old blog or you're probably tired of this topic by now. It's my favorite. 
**Thanks to awesome critique friend Jennifer Baker for the new word.

1 comment:

ilima said...

Great reminders. I love it when my character thinks she wants one thing, but really I know she wants something else and it seeps onto the page in oh so subtle ways.