WRITING TIPS: Developing characters: know their motivation
CREATE SYMPATHY: To make a character believable, you need to know his motivations
CHARACTERS are the fictional people that live your story.
They are the ones who fight, cry, laugh and play pranks on each other in accordance with your plot; they are what draws a reader in, convinces him or her to stay the duration, and, in the end, they are the ones that make your story mean something, because it is they with whom the reader sympathises.
In that sense, developing strong, believable characters is important and to do that, a key tool is motivation.
Motivation is what drives people to do or not do things, or to react in a certain way.
To make a believable character, you need to know his or her motivations and to be able to explain them to the reader in such a way that your character’s actions are understandable, and preferably sympathetic.
“She had been burned before, in the past. Her parents, who had deserted her at the age of 6, died in a car crash.
She had been put in an orphanage because she had no other relatives. She had been bullied.
She needed to cleanse this evil society for treating her like this.”
There is nothing wrong with this motivation, except that it incites absolutely no sympathy at all, other than a distant comprehension of her pitifulness.
It is like telling children that people in Africa are starving and expecting them to sympathise when no human face has been put to that bare fact.
Similarly, the reader does not see an individual human being in this example.
The reader has no access to her emotions, or her reactions to these events, and therefore her “need” to get her revenge upon society is not explained in terms that the reader, who has not gone through such a past, can understand or sympathise with.
“Yi Qin imagined herself, sometimes, standing in the middle of a busy street, alone. People, faceless, nameless, uninvolved, indifferent, walked past.
Mama said, her face elongated in Yi Qin’s mind, like a distorted reflection, “They don’t care, sweetheart. They didn’t care when I was lying with my brains spilling out on the pavement like white worms. They didn’t care then.”
Baba, floating next to Mama, was silent, because he and Yi Qin had always had a silent and immediate understanding and Yi Qin had no need to hear him speak to know what he had to say.
It was easy, it was obvious, it was completely necessary.
The people, faceless, nameless, uninvolved, indifferent, well. They just needed to die.”
This takes a different tack from the first example, concentrating on the personal, emotional impact that the events in Yi Qin’s life have had on her, and thus making her sympathetic to the reader.
The reader is allowed to see this impact from Yi Qin’s point of view: her obsession with the past is shown in the appearance of her dead parents and her ability to think so casually of murder, in the anonymity of the people around her.
Therefore, even if the reader does not agree with her motivations, the reader is still able to understand and perhaps sympathise with Yi Qin, and become far more emotionally involved in her story than in the first example.
We need to understand and believe in what drives a character, before we can fully engage in his or her story.
Finding that motivation and delivering it in a way that the reader can comprehend and sympathise with is key to that.
The writer is a Year 12 student at The Alice Smith School
Life Overseas has been held over until June 17
The World Book
BY the end of this year, The Alice Smith School will have hosted The World Book for five years in a row.
The 2012 publication will comprise the best write-ups from the past four years’ editions and new entries for this year.
The themes for this year are If Music Was..., Finding Neverland, What If?, Life After Death and When The World Was Puddle Wonderful.
The deadline for entry submissions is June 15. If you have been intending to write but been postponing, get started now.
A note of thanks to all students who participated in The 2011 World Book and the schools. We look forward to publishing more wonderful works this year.
Email your entry to firstname.lastname@example.org