09 March 2011

Characters and emotional baggage - your characters' motivations

Once again, there is an interesting theme to things I'm doing in different areas of my life at the moment.
I've just done a 'business skills for beginners' course (for my day job), where we talked a lot about what motivates people. I'm also doing an online writing workshop on GMC - Goal Motivation and Conflict (with RWNZ). Interestingly enough, I'm also trying to come up with enough conflict for my new novel and got stuck trying to think about my main character's motivation.
Motivation is the reason(s) WHY people do things; it's what makes us move or act. In fiction, motivation ties in with characters' goals. Characters have goals BECAUSE of their motivation.

So what is what motivates people, and how to develop your characters' motivation so it last throughout the book and make the reader turn the page?

People can be motivated in 3 major ways
1. Fear or The Stick.
photo by www.sunpix.com 
Unfortunately, although a good one, fear is a temporary motivator and works only as long as the threat. It's also an external motivator -remove it from the picture and motivation disappears.
* My heroine returns to the ward the hero works on to finish her run. If she doesn't make up for the time off sick she won't be able to complete the training and become a consultant, which is her dream. But once her log book is filled in she has no longer interest in staying on the ward.

2. Incentive or The Carrot.
Photo by
Unfortunately incentives also provide only temporary and external motivation, so won't last long. 
* if my heroine wanted to work on the unit longer than absolutely necessary to complete the run because she wanted to become a consultant and because of the prestige of the unit - this would only last as long as her training requirements and the need for that prestige. Once she had enough to put on her CV, she would go.
Unless, of course she had another reason for staying there.

Well, she has. She wants the Hero.
This is the bit I need to work out, but it must be something to do with her attitude.

3. Attitude is the best motivator: more permanent (as we don't change our attitudes too often) and what's more important, internal or internalised - coming from within the person.

Attitude is an established way of thinking or feeling, which is shaped by our past, by
a/ upbringing, family values
b/ education
c/ personal experience
d/ mistakes and failures

In my experience, the deeper the attitude is rooted, the stronger the motivation, e.g. an attitude developed as a result of upbringing is more likely to last and motivate us than what we have learned from mistakes. The best motivation is through attitudes which developed on several levels - from upbringing, through education, personal experience and learning from mistakes.

At the moment I am reading a novel, where the heroine broke up with the hero, because she couldn't cope with his need to have a dangerous job. She wanted him safe, at her side when she needed him. Thanks to her education, she knew what potentially could go wrong with his job and that he ultimately can loose his life. Throughout her relationship with this guy she'd learnt that she couldn't rely on his promises of being back soon or making up for this time with another time tomorrow, or indeed being there for her when she needed -because he couldn't guarantee he would be back on time etc.
But the problem doesn't stop at the level of personal experience and failure to make this relationship work. It reaches deeper levels. She knew he could die while on duty, not only because she was a doctor and could figure it out, but also because her father, who had a similar profession died while on duty. She didn't want her beloved man to die prematurely. She also knew well what it's like to live with a man, who might die while on duty - she had seen her mother not coping with that every day her father went to work. And she didn't want to spent her life worrying sick about her man, like her mother did.

These are all WHYS she had to end this relationship and why there was no point in trying to make it work. No way.
Fantastic motivations and a good source of conflict (because hse obviously loved the man and wanted to be with him for the rest of her life, because (here goes a list of usual physical, intellectual and emotional qualities that usually romance heroes are supplied with - all good motivation though!)

So now, since my heroine has a bunch of good reasons why she wants to work and be with the hero, I have to come up with a few good reasons why my heroine would want to avoid the hero like a plague.
I've got some thinking to do.

How do you find motivations for your characters?


  1. all my comments have disappeared... I don't know why and where...

  2. all my comments have disappeared... I don't know why and where...

  3. I think I know why (change of template) and where (disqus account) but I can't get them back :(

  4. thanks goodness for Disqus support (and firefox browser).
    your valuable comments are back now :)