Today I want to look at character motivations, specifically the six key things you must do before writing your novel.
In any good story, your main character is driven by the pursuit of some overarching goal, for example, to solve the crime, win the race, or rescue the princess. These story arcs are critical to your plot, to build tension, and to spin your readers a good yarn.
But what motivates them, and why is this important for you as a writer to give some thought to? Ready to go? Let's get into it!
We’re going to consider 6 things that you should do when you’re outlining or plotting your story, before you ever write a single word of your story. This will guide you and keep you on track once you are in the writing phase of your story, so you’ll never have to second guess yourself and write yourself into a corner.
1. The One Sentence Summary
First, write a one-sentence summary of your character’s storyline. Don’t overthink it. This is as simple as going on a quest to rescue the princess so I can get my swamp back. Simple simple.
2. The Key Motivation (Abstract)
Second, describe your character’s key motivation, that is, what your character wants in an abstract way. Again, don’t overthink it. This could be justice for all, true love, to find peace and joy in a meaningless world. These are all abstract things, but they speak to what drives your character.
3. The Key Motivation (Concrete)
Third, describe your character’s overall story goal . . . what she wants in a concrete, real way. This is stuff like: get my swamp back, kill the bug eyed aliens, save the earth, stop the empire from blowing up planets.
Fourth, you now need to look at conflict. What’s stopping your character from achieving that goal? There’s likely a bunch of things, but for this exercise, focus on the major one: a nasty, fire-breathing, human-eating dragon, Darth Vader, Joker, the evil CEO
5. The Epiphany
Fifth, in the pursuit of their story goal, your character is going to undergo some kind of change, some epiphany that informs their actions. So how will your character change? What will she learn? What will he find? Perhaps it’s courage, perhaps it’s a realization that Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Write this down.
6. The Storyline Summary
And finally, number 6, wrap up all these things in a one-paragraph summary of your character’s storyline. Again, don’t overthink it. There’s no need to write an essay on what motivates your character, just pull all those first 5 things together in a summary. Refer to this as your writing, and you’ll stay on track.
Do this for all your major characters, your protagonist, atagonist, confidant, romantic interest . . . they all want something, and they all have reasons for taking action.
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