I have my reasons…

May 14, 2010 at 6:40 am (Character, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , )


…and my characters should have their reasons.

It is really quite difficult to like a character, or even respect them, if they have no real reason for their actions.  We may laugh at the cliche of an actor asking what their motivation is, but without it, things become pretty pointless, pretty quickly.

I recently started reading a book (it doesn’t really matter which one). Within two chapters I was incredibly frustrated with the protagonist.  Mostly because they had wandered randomly through rooms and observed really strange things but hadn’t reacted to anything and had just made the decision to leave the building – though why they were there in the first place had yet to be established. The whole time, as a reader, I was wanting the protagonist to turn and figure out why something was in a certain place or doing something.  I wanted to know why they were there, why they were so indifferent to the bizarre surroundings.  I wanted to know what was going on inside their head so that I could figure out whether they were just really composed on the outside but freaking out on the inside.

Needless to say, I didn’t get much further into the story. I made the decision that whether or not the author ever explained what the protagonist was doing and why, I wasn’t going to continue reading it.

This is kind of an extreme case and there is every possibility that within the next chapter all may have been explained.

More commonly we find villains who are bad because, well, the protagonist needed someone in their way.

We find sidekicks who help because… They’re a sidekick.  That’s their job.

We have hench men who hench but have no apparent personality or individual drive for anything and as a consequence fade into obscurity.

And the unforgivable – heroes who are good because they are.

How imporant do you think character motivation is?  Better yet – have you got an example of a protagonist who drove you crazy because they seemed to have no motivation?

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7 Comments

  1. Joanne said,

    I think the motivation is really important. It often gives us the reason to care about the character, to be sympathetic toward their actions and want to see them through to the end. Without motivation, it seems the storyline would lack that critical focus driving the plot.

  2. Lua said,

    A character’s motivation is what helps me to relate to her. If I can feel like her motivation is what’s making me turn the pages, my desire for her getting what she wants, then that’s a character I would like to spend more time with. Whereas a character without any motivation can be quiet frustrating for it would feel like the writer is simply wasting my time, I already know many people who do all sorts of things with no significant reason or motivation in my ‘real’ life, but in books, I would like to see the motivation behind actions.

  3. Alex Willging said,

    To me, motivation is key, not only is what it is for a character, but how well we can connect to it. If the motivation gets dropped halfway through, or doesn’t really seem to be driving the character all that much, then it’s harder for me to care about the story. And in some ways, I speak from experience, because I had trouble with this issue with some of my first stories, where my protagonist just seemed to be floating along until he or she was needed to step up in time for the climax. So in summation, yes. Motivation’s important to the story.

  4. catwoods said,

    Cassandra,

    My psych professor used to say, “I don’t care what happened to you.”

    He hated those inane stories kids love to tell. “OMG, on my way to school I totally got a flat tire.”

    What he wanted was how it affected us. And why we responded the way we did.

    It was a good lesson then on living my life and a better lesson now when writing. It doesn’t matter what our MC’s do. It only matters why they do it and how those actions affect their lives.

    Good post~ cat

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      Thanks and I agree- the what is never as interesting as the why.

  5. emmiemears said,

    I think character motivation is one of the driving questions in my mind when I’m writing. Oddly enough, I just had a long conversation with my boyfriend (well…I talked, he chased after me trying to keep up with my rambling) last night about my characters and what kind of fire was under each of their bums. I had a marathon writing session the other night in which I wrote over 12,000 words, and what came out catapulted some of my characters’ motivations right into the forefront of my mind.

    If I’m reading and I can’t understand what is driving the characters forward — and this goes for antagonists and secondary characters as well as the protagonist(s) — I get disgusted and don’t read any further. I don’t write character profiles for my people most of the time, but one thing I do is “meditate” (for lack of a better word) on each of my characters to see where they came from and how it pushed them my way. That has helped me heaps when it they start tugging on strings in my story and everything clicks into place.

  6. Abigail said,

    To get any decent characters and subsequent character development, all characters need motivation. Period. I’ve discovered actually that when I have a character that I’m just not liking and just can’t figure out, it is usually because I can’t find what is motivating the character.

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