Today we have the lady who brought me into Hearts Talk many moons ago, the bubbly Paula Roe as my special guest on Eleni-fest. Paula writes for the Silhouette Desire and her book Boardrooms & a Billionaire Heir was a finalist for this year's R*BY short sexy category. Congrats Paula!
Paula will be talking to us today about character motivation....with a lovely prop at her disposal ;)
Welcome Paula to Eleni’s Taverna and Eleni-fest!
Take it away...
Thanks Eleni for inviting me onto your fest :-) For this post I was tossing up between something fun or something writer-ly. So I finally settled on writer-ly - and a topic that a lot of writers have problems with. Character motivation.
Motivation is why the character does what he does and is strongly tied to his goals (what he wants). The key to motivation always lies in the character’s past.
Think about this: two girls are brought up in a loving family, good parents, happy childhood. But then one gets dumped by a boyfriend and vows never to fall in love again. Strong motivation? Not really. But what if we add another layer - when they are eleven, just about the start high school, their father suddenly walks out and is never seen again. Motivation for how the girls live their lives? Definitely. One may always hold the hope that daddy will return and is always looking for love. The other may hate him and be unable to sustain a relationship because she has issues of trust and abandonment, which can be further exacerbated by getting dumped. To make this even stronger, the dumped girl (of course, it’s our heroine because we always have to make our characters suffer!) could then find love, get married and THEN hubby cheats on her. Excellent motivation to not risk your heart again on another relationship, I reckon!
So how to you get to the bottom of what's exactly motivating a character?
Here's a little exercise I like to use. Imagine your hero has been given a truth serum so he CANNOT lie to you (hmmm... wishful thinking there). You can ask him any question you want, any topic and he will always tell you the truth.
Now, for this demonstration, I shall need a hunky gorgeous dude. Oh, look David Boreanaz is doing nothing - let's use him, shall we? But we shall call him Jake.
Me: (in star struck voice) Hi, David. I love you.
David: (in brooding, slightly amused tone) Hi. Thanks. But my name is Jake.
Me: Oh. Okay. So tell me. What do you do for a living?
David-now-Jake: I buy companies then sell them off for a profit.
Me: So you're pretty rich, then.
Jake: you could say that.
Me: so how come you do that instead of, say, a trade or an office job?
Jake: (frowning) because I have a talent for it. And because there's more money in it.
Me: Ahh. Is money important to you? Does having a lot make you happy?
Jake: because... (thinks)
Me: remember you can't lie!
Jake: Right. Because money gives you freedom.
Me: from what?
Jake: so you don't have to depend on others
Me: did you ever depend on someone?
Jake: not in a long, long time.
Me: and did they let you down?
Me: (patting the sofa) lie down on my couch and tell me all about it.
Jake: (sighs). What's there to say? My mother was a drunk. My stepfather beat me up. I left home when I was sixteen.
And so you can see the pattern here. The key question is to keep on asking "why?" I want to explore the world. Why? Because I need adventure. Why? Because I’ve spent years in an unhappy relationship. Why? Because half a partner is better than none at all. Why? Because I don’t want to be alone. Why? Because my mother left when I was eleven. See how easy it is? It may seem like you're being quizzed by a five-year old, but it really does get you thinking about the 'why's!
Another quick example - your heroine is desperate for a child. Why? Yes, it could be biological, but great and burning needs are motivated by something missing, something highly desirable in a character's life (I call these prime goals). Maybe she was abandoned as a child and needs a baby to make her feel like she has a family (prime goal: family). Maybe she lost a baby very young or gave it up for adoption and needs to fill that space in her heart. (prime goal: unconditional love) Maybe she needs an heir to gain her family's fortune. (prime goal/s: security or respect). Or maybe she needs a baby from a particular man (prime goal/s: revenge or justice)
Bottom line - whatever the motivation, always, always keep asking why to dig deep and discover what really makes your character tick.
Now, I’d love to hear you quiz one of your characters! Post their whys here and you could win any book from my backlist (2009 RBY anthology included!)
Thanks Paula for that great article and for your generosity.
Please comment below answering Paula's question above. Comments are open until 3rd November.
Comments for prize is now closed. Congratulations Mel Teshco!
Paula’s most recent book, The Magnate’s Baby Promise was a September release in Australia. Her next will be out in June 2010 (US) as part of the Outback Billionaires and Babies miniseries. Check out her website.