Motive: Adding Character Depth

Resolutions blog seriesWelcome to the final writing tip post in this January series. If you made a New Year’s goal to write a book, I hope you’re still going strong. So far I’ve discussed writing skeleton drafts and plotting, and today I’m going to talk about adding character depth.

Watch any crime show and one of the main things cops look for in solving a crime is motive. Motivation is the root of all our actions. Every decision we make in life is based on one emotion or another: love, fear, ambition, insecurity, anger, etc. What drives your characters?

I’m guessing many people know the answer to that question when it comes to their main character, but what about secondary characters? What about the antagonist or bad guy? Oh, well my evil dude wants to plunge the world into eternal darkness. Okay, but why? Desires and goals aren’t the same as motive. Motive is what lies behind a character’s goals and actions.

Take Loki from the movie Thor. He wanted to destroy the Frost Giants and rule Asgard. Why? Because he’s an evil psychopath? Well, yeah, but this wasn’t some random whim. He was neither born this way nor did he wake up one morning and think it’d be fun to wreak havoc on two worlds. No, Loki’s motivations were rooted in insecurity and a desperate need for approval from his father, Odin. Once on this homicidal path, it was easy for Loki to do other terrible things in The Avengers.

How about secondary characters? What driving motivation is behind their lives? Is it ambition in their career? A desire to be loved? A sense of entitlement? Answering this one question for each of the players in your book will give them an added layer of depth that will come through in the story, even if you never explicitly go into detail about their backstory. (Remember, just because you know all the angles, doesn’t mean you tell the reader.)

Now, how do you apply this in your writing? You already know from my previous posts that I’m big on plotting and organization. Before you get too far into a story, try writing out a summary of each character’s motivations and how it impacts their actions in the story. I find this crucially helpful with the antagonist. I put myself in his (or her) head and map out his actions behind the scenes, and his motives for doing them. Knowing a bad guy’s motives also helps you know how he or she will respond when your protagonist throws a wrench in his evil machinations.

How about you? Do you think of motive when it comes to all your characters?

I hope you found this series of writing tips useful. Happy writing!

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2 comments on “Motive: Adding Character Depth

  1. Fabulous series Angela. I’d love to see it continue :)

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