Creating characters is perhaps the most exciting, the most satisfying, and yet the most challenging aspect of the fiction writer’s craft. As a writer, you need to know the answers to all the journalistic questions about your fiction character – who, what, where, when, how and above all, why. Why is this character behaving in this manner, why is he robbing a bank, why is she innocently pruning the roses while her house burns behind her, why is a sweet teenager morphing into a mad slut, why are the police accusing a dirt bike rider of a terrible crime?
Why is the question that really gets the creative juices flowing. Yet it is not enough to simply make up motivations for the character. While a character may have a deep plan, or may act on impulse, the motivation for an action must have credible roots. And perhaps the simplest, yet most obvious motivation lies in this dictum: we do what we do because we love to do it.
While this sounds very simplistic, there is truth in it, that applies from the saintliest character to the personification of evil.
For example, consider a saintly character, who sacrifices his whole life to helping others – maybe a worker in a Shelter for the Homeless, maybe a social worker seeking to repair broken families. This character loves the satisfaction and joy of the successes, even though these may be rare. Or a mother who sacrifices her career and social life to care for her handicapped child, for love of that child. A psychologist would explain this love in more complex terms – love of the ‘warm fuzzies’ achieved by such sacrifices, perhaps. But love it is, certainly.
But what about evil characters? Are they motivated by love? Do they simply love to be bad? No, of course not. But consider the results of the evil acts – wealth? power over another? attention? sexual satisfaction? revenge? In pursuing these goals, the character is acting out of love, love of seizing the desired result, perverse though this love may be.
Once you understand this motivation, it becomes far easier to create credible evil characters, characters who are convincing because they act from believable motives. Otherwise, they may be flat cartoon characters, who are evil just for the sake of being evil.
So be sure to give all characters powerful and credible reasons for their actions: allow each action to be the inevitable result of a love for someone or something, either directly or indirectly. Pay careful attention to these driving motivations behind each character, and suddenly your characters will leap off the page and into the imaginations of your readers.
My forthcoming ebook, Creating Characters, guides writers to discover new and wonderful characters, though a deep and detailed exploration of the questions of Who, Where, When, What, How and Why. Watch my website for details…