Writing Corner: Character Motivations

Have you ever read a story and when a character does something, you find yourself thinking, “Okay, but why?”

This is a question you don’t want your readers to ask if you don’t have a plan how to answer it in the story. Characters should never do things just to make the story happen.

Let’s take the following example:

A man comes home from work to find that his door has been broken open and a rare book worth a million dollars has been stolen. He starts on a quest to hunt down the thieves and recover the book.

There are a couple questions that might come to mind when you read this. For example:

  • Why did the man have a book worth a million dollars in his house with no special security?
  • Why didn’t he call the police?

It is true that if the book was in a safety deposit box in the bank or if he called the police to track down the thieves, there would not be much of a story. However that is not a good enough reason. Readers want stories to make sense for the story setting, even when they take place in a fantasy or absurd world. Here are some possible answers that might answer these question:

  • He just got the book and was going to bring it to the bank the next day
  • He didn’t know it was that valuable
  • The police in his town are corrupt and would just steal the book if they found it
  • There is no police force since it is in a remote or lawless area

You don’t have to explain all this at the beginning but it’s good to give some hints so the reader knows that there is a logical explanation, even if they don’t know what it is yet.

TL:DR (In Summary)

Make sure that there is a logical reason for all the actions your character makes and that they are realistic for the story world.

Got a question or problem for Writing Corner? Let me know in the comments or email me at info@greenwalledtreehouse.com.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. The word logical always runs by me like it’s trying to catch a bus. Once again you’ve made me think. The man with the pricey book. Why didn’t he call the police? Fear? He’s a New Yorker and knows they’ll do nothing but fill out a useless report? Maybe he’s a teacher and stole it from the school’s archives. My imagination and I that can use more coffee, are off to the races. The Treehouse rocks once again. 🙂

    Like

    1. Exactly, there are so many reasons for something like that. Sometimes characters in stories are clearly there only to serve the story but if we approach them as actual people, it will always ring true. Thanks for your comment, as always. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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