Saturday, November 9, 2013

Motivate Your Characters and Plot by Rita Karnopp

As with each of us . . . characters in our books change as the story progresses.  The growth of a character is very important.  I think this aspect of writing is sometimes overlooked or even forgotten.  We focus so much on what is happening externally that we forget what is happening internally.

We need to learn what motivates our character as the story progresses.  They must have reasons why they do the things they do.  They must have reasons why they resist the right decision.  They also must have reasons why they react the way they do.  Each of these ‘reasons’ is what motivates our characters as well as drives the plot of the book.

Confused? Don't be; it's simpler than it may seem. Characters can be broken down into four groups:

1.     The never changing character – they refuse to change in personality and motivation.  You get what you see.
2.     The no-personality changer – they don’t change or grow during the story –but they want to. 
3.     The changing character – they change but their motivation does not.
4.     Finally we have the characters who changes throughout the story - as their motivation also progresses.

While plotting out the story we must decide, ‘what is the key motivation for each main character?’  This will add incredible depth to the story.  Always be aware that character and plot are entwined.

The never changing character – I’ve often heard that a character must change – even if in a small way.  Why?  Think about James Bond – he’s smart, debonair’, unstoppable, and he gets the girl.  His character has a single direct motivation the entire length of the story.  At the end, Bond is still smart, debonair’, unstoppable, and he gets the girl.

And when you think about it - his motivation doesn’t change either. He accepts a mission, and he doesn’t stop until it’s accomplished.  There are always the ‘mini’ motivation interruptions such as saving a woman from drowning or escaping a death trap.

We can apply this never changing character with a direct motivation to any genre’.  Our responsibility is to present the reader with a character and goal clearly and powerfully obvious from the start.  There will be no doubt who this character is and why he’s doing what he's doing.   This then gives us (the writer) ‘license’ to complicate the story plot.

Be aware – an unchanging character with a direct goal still can react or respond to more than one emotion at any given moment. Our Mr. Bond might feel attraction to a knock-out blonde and at the same time distrust her.  If your character feels two conflicting things toward another character, bring this to life in the scene in which it happens. Then—and this is the important part—return to the main goal in the next scene.
This tells us that his motivation is unchanged. Although Bond, for instance, has just made love with a woman, she hasn’t fundamentally changed him. He’s not changed in either his behavior or mission as a result of her attractions.

The no-personality changer – This type of story focuses on a character who doesn’t change in persona or attitude, but what he/she wants accepts as a result of story aftermaths.
These characters are often the heroes or villains. The heroes are admirable characters from the beginning. They don’t change because the writer has created a character that is supporting an ideal/situation that he/she clearly represents and embodies.  Say for instance saving an endangered species or leading a group to keep oil from being drilled in sacred Native ground.

The fact is your character starts-out heroic and you don’t want him to change.

The changing character – Then there are the stories where the major character changes notably. The character has a single cause/motivation due to his/her backstory.  Consider Pollyanna’s aunt.  She refused to show kindness and love – because as a young woman she’d been hurt by the man she loved.  A lot had to happen to her before she realized it was okay to reach out and love.  The point here – she had to change for the story/plot to have resolution.

Keep in mind when you write the changing character:

His/her character change must result in response to story consequences or results. Develop the story so your character changes the way you want.

Your character must have emotional responses to these events.

Make sure the character change is emphasized. The ‘change’ must be shown. This is called validation, and it’s crucial for all changing characters.

You must add validation at the end of the story so the reader knows this character’s change is not temporary. Usually this ending validation is on a larger scale than what has gone before.

Readers enjoy and are satisfied at the end of a book when there’s a changing character/single motivation.

Characters who changes throughout the story - as their motivation also progresses -  Of the four characters, this is the most complex fictional pattern. A character’s personality as well as their goals change throughout the story.

Simplify this character – change him/her from a self-centered model to a caring person – putting life in danger to save the child-type.  

With this type of character your hero/heroine’s changes must be dramatic and prove they are a result of the horrendous events, be supported by believably portrayed emotions, and be confirmed by ensuing actions on his/her part.

Books We Love just released Rita’s fifteenth book, Thunder

Mingan (Gray Wolf) is certain his twin brother wouldn’t commit suicide. Entering the world of professional wrestling and fulfilling Thunder’s obligations, Mingan begins by scrutinizing everything around Thunder’s life, starting with the beautiful and haunting Chloe. As hard as he tries to keep her at a distance, he’s pulled to her like adrenaline on a choke hold. If they find his niece, they’ll find his brother’s killer . . . or will they uncover something more sinister going on?



  1. One character who does very little changing is one who is the main character of a mystery series, especially when told in first person.

  2. Great information and advice about motivating characters, Rita!

  3. Hi Rita,
    Very informative blog.



  4. I so agree with this Rita. Great blog.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Blog Archive