Finding Character Motivation


When I start writing I often have little idea about the motivation for most of my characters. As I write this tends to reveal itself as I learn more about the characters. Sometimes it is not so easy and their motivation continues to elude me. I have this problem with a couple of my key characters at the moment.

My biggest problem is a duty focused soldier. He has been slowly falling for one of my main characters (and she him) but so far he has maintained the appropriate distance, if only just, for her sake rather than his own. Although at times he has endangered her and others inadvertently by being distracted by her rather than focusing on his job. But he is still a good soldier and he knows his place. My plan is that as this relationship changes he crosses a boundary that sets off a chain of events that are quite important to the plot.

The problem: would he cross that line? Really cross it in a can’t-go-back kind of way. Would his love for her blind him so much that he would forget his duty and his morals and who he is? He has managed to restrain himself for this long so what would tip his balance?

I have written the scene that pulls them together. First draft or course and I’m not happy with it yet but I looked back over it and thought – he wouldn’t really do that. Is love enough?

Funnily enough I understand her motivation quite well. What she needs and wants and why she is drawn to him and why she would risk it all to be with him. When I had imagined him in the outlining process he was a bit more fickle and carefree and was prepared to take those risks too. But once he hit the page he was something different, stronger, sterner and more sure of his duty and his place in the world. I just have to find the chink that would push him over his own boundaries…in a way it has to be because of who he is and what he believes that pushes him over that line but I haven’t quite worked out how to do that yet.

The last week did not quite go to plan but to ensure I continue to write I have been concentrating on that first and then other bits later (which means they have been put right off the list for the moment). I wrote 1500+ words a day (for six days and then on Sunday my chain broke). I have been rereading and rethinking bits of the story, such as the motivations above, but also a new antagonist idea has started to grow and I am excited to see how I can use that.

I seem to be metaphorically swinging a lot of swords around at the moment but have no real idea on how to make a mark on my opponent so some research still required. Getting the story down is the most important aspect at the moment and the research can filter in as I write and more so during the editing phase.

My characters seem to develop into something different to what I first imagined them to be and I enjoy that but when it gets in the way of the plot points what do you do?

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