First I would like to thank the lovely Kat Carlson, D.J. Niko and the not quite as lovely but certainly very nice Jim DeFelice for their contributions to the blog over the past month. Other guest bloggers will appear on a staggered schedule. The reason it is staggered is that there is no telling when someone will hand in a blog post. Sort of like real life for editors at publishing houses.
I'm going to bounce back to our discussion of character for today's post. A lot of this is based on considering things after I read comments and e-mails people send me. I think we might have overlooked an important aspect to any novel. As we know, a good novel must have conflict. But a character must have motivation. The motive of your character is what will drive their actions.
It's easy to make a bad guy crazy and use that as justification for his actions. Serial killers are, by definition, psychopaths. They need no justification. But most people aren't really psychopaths. Put yourself in your character's position. What would be the motivation of a cop? Would it be simply to solve the crime or are there deeper issues? What would be the motivation for a lawyer? A quick and easy paycheck or the search for the truth?
That doesn't mean your character cannot go through an evolution of motivation. They may start the novel with one goal, but learn, over time, what's really important. There are a few instances of doing the explanation and motivation in reverse order. To me, the clearest example is one I've used before: Thomas Harris's exceptional character Hannibal Lecter. In the early books, (and movies for that matter), it's easy to write off Lecter's motivation and say he is simply a madman. Just a soulless monster who kills and eats his victims. Happens every day. But wait. As we read the prequel, or in my case watch the movie, we see Hannibal Lecter as a teenager in Europe during World War II and the horrific events that shaped his life and turned him into the monster we first came to love in Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs.
Your character's motivation is something you should put a lot of thought into. Understand what makes them tick and what would drive them to do something. Will it push your cop over the edge and make him break the law to stop the killer? Will the motivation to save a child turn a priest into a killer? I have no idea, that just popped into my head.
Think about your motivation for things you do every day. My motivation for writing these blogs is a fear of Patty Smiley and, to a lesser extent, Jackie Winspear. Patty, because I know what she’s capable of if she is provoked and Jackie because of the accent. My motivation to write novels is quite simply a love of writing, with a need for cash flow thrown in.
No one said you only needed a single motivation to take action.
This week's quotes are classics:
“It ain’t whatcha write, it’s the way atcha write it.”
“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”