Writing Tip: Character Motivations

What is it about school talent show auditions that will get even the quietest of children to stand on stage and belt out a show tune?   Or a group of “cool” boys to collaborate on a comedic skit. 

This is the second year I attended the talent show auditions of my children’s school. Overall, it’s a great program and the teachers will throw out any of the children if there is any irreverent behavior.  It’s wonderful watching the children clap and shout out encouragements to one another, no matter what.  I hate to say this, but it’s also fascinating to watch the undercurrents of competition and conflict during the auditions.  This is a talent show after all.  And not all talents are created alike.

There’s always the over-enthusiastic parent, who hopes their child is the next Hannah Montana.  The girl who is a fantastic singer who chooses singing partners who aren’t as good.  There’s the in-fighting, the tears, the shame, the panic attacks.  All because of the end goal: getting into the talent show.
What is so wonderful about having real-life exposure to a “big” event like this, is that if you’re a writer, it gives you a camera view of how people really act and react in a conflict-driven environment.  And it helps give insight to character motivations, which is important to your plot.  Even though character motivation is a part of what makes the reader interested in your story, it’s what helps give your work substance. 
I spend so much time analyzing my characters, getting to know who they are.  I enjoy character development and discovering their psychological motivations.  Just like people, our characters need to have goals and the motivation to reach them.  Otherwise, there is no depth to them and they would be boring to read about.

These are the questions I think about, as I develop my character motivations:

  1. What drives a character to do what they do–what is it they need? 
  2. What are they trying to achieve? 
  3. How much time do they have to get this done? 
  4. What happens when something gets in their way?
What helps you define your character motivations?

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