Some days I’m simply unmotivated, so I lounge on the couch drifting in an out dreamland. On days like that, my life wouldn’t make very compelling reading—I expect when my biography eventually gets written <wink, wink>, it’ll gloss over those days. People that lack motivation simply aren’t that interesting. This axiom also extends to characters in stories.
Over the past several weeks, I’ve critiqued several stories whose primary issue, in my opinion, was a main character that either lacked motivation or had a motivation that wasn’t clear to me. While such stories may be action-packed or have a lot of other great things going for them, they often leave me unsatisfied at the end because the main character is passively reacting to events or because it’s never clear to me why (s)he is doing what (s)he is doing. People don’t do daring things for without a compelling reason; if a character is going to leap onto the landing strut of flying helicopter, (s)he better have a great reason for doing it.
When I’m writing, the first thing I try to figure out are the motivations of the characters. Why does a character care about what happens, and by extension, why should my reader? If I clearly understand a character’s motivation, I find it’s easier to know how that character will react to obstacles I create. The stronger and more personal the motivation, the more likely that character will strive to overcome those challenges. In many ways, this is the same as real life. I’m not about to crawl out onto a ledge of a fifty-story building for a five note, but I’ll be out there without thought if my daughter is dangling from her finger tips. It’s all about motivation. If a character has enough of it, (s)he can do just about anything, especially in a speculative-fiction story.