Motivation: the Choices your Characters Make

 

Motivating your characters well in a romance is essential, but also one of the hardest things to do.  I find motivation is something the writers I work with struggle with the most.

 

You may well ask: what is motivation?  Well, it can be internal (coming from the character’s emotion and beliefs), or external (as the result of something that happens in the front or backstory).  It’s how a character makes choices and then acts.  It can provoke reactions in the opposite main character and shape their motivation, and also change the course of a story.

 

I’m seeing a trend amongst romance writers to throw in totally new but basic character motivations fairly late on in their novels.  However, this rarely works.  It can feel left-field and inconsistent to the reader.  I also believe it’s the result of a confusion caused by character motivation versus author motivation; when the writer gets caught up in what she needs to do in order to move the story forward, rather than focusing on the character’s reason for acting that way.

 

So, here are my three top tips for executing successful character motivation:

 

  • Know who your characters are before you put your fingers to the keys. Map out their personalities, influences, strengths and weaknesses and give them contrasts and flaws which you can unfold in relation to your plot.

 

  • Keep motivations consistent— focus on how a character feels about what they’re doing all the way through. However, it is okay to challenge a character’s motivation with another’s act, or a situation, which brings out an unexpected reaction, or a fresh insight.

 

 

  • Your characters’ motivations need to be clear from the very first page; resist the temptation to throw in a completely new motivation some way through the story, unless it is consistent and part of your initial plan.