Last week I finished presenting all the theories regarding what motivates you and me. If you missed them you can go here to learn about instincts, here to learn about drives and incentives, and here to learn about arousal and humanism. You will find that each theory is one piece of the jigsaw puzzle that is human motivation. Each piece serves a purpose: instincts keep us safe, drives compel us to eat, incentives build self-esteem, and well, striving to be the best person makes the world a better place. Some of the pieces reveal minor details in the puzzle, while others reveal significant details in the puzzle. Separate, the pieces are meaningless, but together, you have a beautiful picture.
A complex picture.
Duh, you say. What does this mean for you, the writer? Glad you asked. In order to develop a character that can live and breathe inside the reader’s mind, they need to possess the qualities of a living person. Yes, I know we are writing fiction. I know. I know. But most readers say they remember books that make them feel. I suppose we can feel things for a tree or a car. Sure. Sure. But I think readers are referring to the characters. If you can’t connect with the characters, what’s the point of reading the story?
I give you exhibit A. I recently read a story in which a character shunned another character. Up until that moment, the two characters were connecting. Then, POOF, they weren’t. I scratched my head. Flipped through the previous pages, convinced I’d missed an important detail. Nothing. I returned to the page, reread it. Still didn’t get it. I continued reading, feverishly searching for understanding. None came. I was temporarily pushed out of the story, and I never connected with that character.
Now, you and I do things out of character…sometimes. When we land in those pickles, we scrutinize our situation and make inferences, hazard a guess. So, it’s okay for the character to not know WHY they do some things. However, the reader should be able to look at the character’s surroundings, their history, their actions, their words, and generate some guesses. If the reader can’t, that means the character is not developed well…in my humble opinion.
The writer must know what motivates their characters: fears and desires. Don’t share ALL the gritty details, only what is necessary for the reader to connect the puzzle pieces. And use enough variations in motivations to breathe life into their character. Huh? Okay, a person addicted to drugs may be using drugs in order to escape the anxiety associated with the memory of a trauma (arousal theory). AND maybe the person has a crush on someone. Oh! That means sometimes the character may act out of fear or love. A superhero can save and protect the world for humanistic reasons. But what if she is a mother and wants to ensure her children live a normal life?
See? Adding variation makes the character more real and more interesting.
So go out and motivate your characters, give’em a nudge, a push, a shove. Have fun!