Character Week: Motivation & Yet Another Why

As Joni Sensel mentioned, we’ll be talking about characters all week here at The Spectacle. She did such a fantastic job yesterday with her “why” post, it got me inspired to dig into those revisions (yet again).

Here are two questions I ask myself (normally during revisions – maybe at some point I’ll get on the ball enough to do this pre-first-draft) when I’m working on character development:

1) What is the character’s motivation before the story starts?

Sure, if we drop a zombie into the middle of a scene, the character’s motivation may become something like “get away from the zombie.” And for the short term, that may work. But when we’re looking at characters, we have to go beyond that. We need to know what drives this character way before the book even starts.

Yes, this is backstory, and No, it may not need to be in the actual book. But as the author, you need to know what this motivation is. It drives the character to do everything they do. It helps them make their choices. It defines the person they are. So when someone asks you what your character’s motivation is, dig deep and look into the past for the answer.

2) Why is this character the main character in this story?

What about this character makes him/her special such that only they can be the main character of the story. Let’s look at Harry Potter. The kid was doomed from the very start. He had the scar on his head. He was integrally imprisoned with Voldemort in the plot. Neville would not have done. Ron would not have done. Hermione would not have done. The main character had to be Harry.

I know this is a why question (like Joni’s), but I  wanted to state it anyway because I find it so useful and so important. Make your character special by giving them enough reason to be in the novel.


So those are my two big character questions. What are some of yours? And thanks for reading!

pjhoover_casual1 Why is PJ Hoover the main character of her life? What makes her special? :)

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3 responses to “Character Week: Motivation & Yet Another Why

  1. Natalie Aguirre

    I think knowing the back story why is really important and to tie that into the plot/character development is important to making the story. And I think when you’re doing a series, although the old back story is still important, there will be a new part of the character & of his/her back story that will drive the story. And like Harry, if there’s a good back story driving the story, you can see how that one character is the only one who could be the main star of the story. Great post. Thanks.

  2. Good tips. More and more I realize how important are the things you never see. But it makes for great characters though. And great characters make for great stories.

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