characters / writers tips / writing

Writers Tip #53: What Motivates Your Character Provides Conflict

writers tips

What makes your character unique

When you read your story, does it sound off, maybe you can’t quite put your finger on it, but you know you’ve done something wrong? Sometimes–maybe even lots of times–there are simple fixes. These writer’s tips will come at you once a week, giving you plenty of time to go through your story and make the adjustments.

Today’s tip: Know what motivates your characters

Motivation is to a character what conflict is to a plot, but on a personal level. What motivates your character is what they’re striving to achieve, but haven’t, what they dream of, but don’t have. They spend the entire novel trying to resolve that. Their growth throughout the story will reflect their success. Struggle is far more compelling than satisfaction. This character growth is part of what will make page-turners out of your readers. By the end of the novel, your audience should feel a sense of accomplishment with the character in what s/he has achieved.

In yourself–and your friends–actions and reactions are driven by a core of morals, beliefs, goals, desires. Nothing you do occurs without impact from those factors. So too, it must be with your characters, but how do you know what is? In my current novel, I wrote a prequel so I could hash out how my cast would react in every situation I threw at them. Only then did I know them enough to write their story. There are other, less time-consuming ways. Some suggest writing a detailed description. Some interview their characters, Others write scenes. The last conference I went to suggested writing a list of characteristics, then picking three and keeping those on your desktop for reference every time you write that individual in a scene.

Whatever way you choose, do it. If they are spiritual, this bleeds into their scenes. If having children is important to them, this will shade their relationships. If it’s politics, this may influence how they succeed at work. Your reader will want to see how each character resolves these internal conflicts and will want to see their growth throughout the novel. If you’ve wrapped the character as a person into the plot, this will happen naturally. If it doesn’t, go back and re-evaluate, find the parts that don’t sound authentic. These conflicts are what makes your character memorable and gives you a grip on the reader. Glory in them.

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6 thoughts on “Writers Tip #53: What Motivates Your Character Provides Conflict

  1. Thank you so much, Julie. I’ve been struggling with my characterization and happened to read Donald Maass’ book. He got me quite motivated. Good luck with your book!


  2. Your tips are always so helpful, and this is no exception. Gave me a lot to think about in terms of the characters I’m in the process of developing for a potential story.
    I really enjoy your blog! 🙂


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