You have reasons for coming here (you want to learn more about writing, to communicate as one author to another, or maybe you were baited by that tantalizing title). I have a reason for writing this post (to inform you, to give you a place to discuss, and to ensnare you with clickbait! HAH).
The point is, everything you and I do is brought on by some sort of motivation. We are human, we want, and we will always want.
Your characters should also want something (even if they aren’t human). Coming up with a motivation is easy: Is your thief greedy? Is your president obsessed with power? Is your romantic lead drawn to honor?
However, one motivation won’t cut it if you want to make your characters interesting. So what is the secret?
(I don’t know what your answer is, because I can’t hear you, so I’ll pretend you said, “Yes! Tell me!”)
Well developed characters are torn between worlds. All of your characters should have problems,both internal and external. How do you come up with an internal problem? Take the thief: he might be poor because of a money-hungry, tyrannical regime – but everyone else is just as impoverished, everyone desires wealth.
Your thief needs something to set him apart – your thief needs a second motivation. The key is to set this motivation to conflict with your thief’s original goal.
Let’s say the thief has a plan to steal from the regime, but as he’s spying on the leaders he discovers that the regime needs the money to fight off a genetically-engineered plague that could destroy the entire country. This leads to a choice: does the thief decide to continue with his plan, thereby allowing him to save his loved ones, but dooming the country? Or does he side with the regime, incurring the ire of his family and friends, but giving him a chance to save the country?
Add to this another character who must directly interact with your thief (let’s say a love interest from inside the regime) and you can see how quickly these conflicting motivations will bring life to any plot.
If you’re having trouble coming up with a turning point or a climax in your story, this technique can help you uncover a moment of peaking tension, while also allowing you to create an organic thread of turmoil.
You can do better – The country-saving thief isn’t the greatest story in the world, so I challenge you: in five hundred words or less, create a character with two conflicting motivations – and force your character to make a choice. I can’t wait to read them.
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Image by Gareth via Flickr Creative Commons