Character Creation, Part One – Character Motivation

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Starting off this idea of article and blog post writing, I figured I could start with something that is in and of itself a beginning for many writers – Character Creation.  Now, this is a topic that could take pages and pages to discuss, per person that has ever designed a character for use in any medium.  As such, I’ll be breaking this up into a few smaller posts, each one dedicated to their own part of the process.

Now, the topics that I’m going to discuss aren’t in any particular order.  There are a few that people tend to do first or last, but in reality, you can move through these in any order you want and skip any of them that you feel may be unneeded for your story.

You will though want to put time and effort into your characters.  Not doing so and “letting them flesh themselves out” will lead to your characters all sounding and behaving in similar ways.  The time you put into them takes them from the realm of words on a page and makes them into people that your reader can understand.  Today I want to hit the topic that I typically break into first, which is my character’s motivation within the story.

When your first introduce your character, it will typically be before they are pushed to be the hero or villain or other bit players of the story.  Thinking of the life that your character is in, and what they will be leaving can already help you set up a character that will fit in the world better.  For example, your typical farm-boy-turned-hero of fantasy establishes himself as a simple individual, comfortable with nature or in the forest.  This underlying characteristic helps you build from the ground up.  If he has had a simple life until now, is he craving adventure? Or content to live his days on the farm?  Was he a rule-breaker with his own sense of justice? Or does he apply his village’s rules rigidly to every situation he encounters?  Has he developed a distrust of those different than him? Etc.

This base character sets the stage for the developments of the story.  Your plot interrupts his life and forces him out of his comfort zone.  Is he fearful, or excited? Did you kill his family?  Is he crushed, and unable to continue? Or does he stand tall, and fight for revenge?  These small, simple questions in your individual situations can help you develop a voice for the character that would otherwise be [insert-your-plot-dialogue-here] and [clever-plot-reply-with-exposition].

But say you already have a character, why are they still out on your adventure?  The promise of riches or love can only take you so far before the chances of death and risk to yourself and those you care for can bring you down.  Rarely do true heroes emerge in the world or people who stand to the quest just for the sake of completing it.  But in writing, they can.  If that’s the way you want to go, make sure that you explain what makes this character such a white knight to the world.  Otherwise, it feels like your plot is important and not the character, but what you will want is for your characters to be the driving factor to keep readers coming.  Your story is interesting, but it’s through your characters that these events come to life to your reader’s imagination.  I want to keep going on this, but we’ll deal with plot and relativity in another post.  Without going on to far, just try to make sure that there is a reason for every action your characters take, without “because plot.”

Villains though, take a special place in your reader’s hearts.  And often times, fantasy will deal with cataclysmic world risking events that your MC will have to rise against.  These events are usually organized by your villain.  This puts them at the center of your entire story and are (in my opinion, which is always right) more important than your main character.  The one thing I want you to avoid at all costs is “evil for evil’s sake”.  Your MC can decide to stop the end of the world because he’s just that nice, but your villain can’t just wake up and think “I’m going to put in motion a series of events to end the world, because.”. Give them a point to the destruction.  What do they get out of it?  Power? Money? Love?  Why did they decide to go about it this way?  Often times the best written and most beloved villains are those whose motives resonate with your reader.  If they aren’t sure if your villain is really a bad guy, you’re probably doing something right.

Coming up with some of these motivations can be tough, but that’s the beauty of creating your world.  Understanding what makes your characters tick will give you a better sense of how they will react to stimuli you put in front of them organically.  It will also tell you exactly where to stick the knife to ensure the pain is real.  It’s within a character’s motivations that everything else about their personality can be shown and understood without you needing a page of exposition to tell us about them.  It’s for this reason that I wanted to talk about this first and chose to leave out quite a bit of information so that I can talk about it more in other posts.

In addition, I will have a class available on the topic of Character Development in the coming weeks and I invite all readers of LiveWritely to participate at a special discounted rate.  I’ll have more information available soon, but let me know if that’s something you’re interested!

Brandon Cliffe

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2 comments

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