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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What is your character’s love language?

Hey guys, today I’m going to talk about character building.  There are a lot of methods and exercises for developing a character.  One of my friends, when trying to get to know her character, will write her in the midst of various emotions: what is she like when she’s happy, when she’s mad, sad, goofy, humiliated, etc.

Another layer to understanding your character is to know what his or her love language is.  Some of you are thinking this only applies to romance writers, but a person’s love language isn’t only about romantic love; it’s about what makes them feel valued and cared for in their relationships.  This might also help you with insight into causes for conflict, especially if your characters have different love languages.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  First, here are the Five Love Languages as defined by Gary Chapman (here’s the website if you want to read more about it; there’s even a published book).

Words of Affirmation–Compliments, praise, and the words “I love you” are very important to this person.  In turn, any insult or verbal degradation could be devastating.  “Sticks and Stones, but words may never hurt me” does not apply to them.

Quality Time–full, undivided attention.  No “let’s have a conversation while I watch TV,” or in a fantasy story (told you it applies across genres), “can you please stop sharpening your sword so we can talk?”  Being cancelled on, or having dates postponed, or the date showing up late are very hurtful.

Receiving Gifts–This person appreciates well-thought-out gifts, gifts that the giver took time to tailor to this specific person.  To the person with this love language, they feel valued when people show they care for and know them when they give them special gifts.  It’s not about materialism, but the thought behind it.  Which means that thoughtless or last-minute gifts are hurtful.  Forgetting occasions where gifts are usually given, like birthdays and anniversaries, is also devastating.

Acts of Service–Helping out and easing one’s burden can show this type of person they’re loved and valued.  The old family sitcom stereotype, “why won’t my husband help clean the house?” probably stems from this love language.  Not helping or making one’s work harder does not speak love to this person.

Physical Touch–Don’t all rush to sex here.  Holding hands, pats on the back, soft touches, and hugs are what make this person feel loved.  Withholding these from someone who needs them will feel like neglect.

So if you have two people, Sherri whose love language is Quality Time, and Marcus who likes gifts, there’s bound to be some conflict.  Marcus the pirate brings back booty to give to his sweetheart because that’s how he feels and communicates love.  Sherri the wench with wanderlust feels like she’s being bought off when all she really wants is for Marcus to sail away with her so they can have adventures and raid merchant ships together.  It’s not their love for each other that’s in question, but how they express it.

Your book might never go into love languages, and your characters never sit down and say, “you know, I’m feeling really unloved because my love language is ___.”  That’s probably a good thing.  We don’t want to get expository on our readers.  Even if you never use these types of conflict, you will still know one more thing about your characters, and it’s up to authors to know everything, even the stuff we don’t show our readers.

So what do you guys think?  Have you ever thought about your character’s love language?  Maybe you have, just under another label?  Do you know what your love language is?