I’ve been thinking a lot about temptation and motivation lately. In part because of my weight loss efforts and in part because I am struggling with the “why” of how one of my characters needs to act for the final chapters of my sequel to A Love Out of Time to work.
The surface level mechanics of both temptation and motivation I get. It’s the deep “lizard brain” stuff that escapes me. Take the weight loss thing for example. I want to lose the weight and I believe that I am motivated. I’ve kicked my addiction to Mountain Dew and all carbonated sodas. I am well aware of the nutritional information of everything I put in my mouth and just how long I would need to work out to burn it off. I have a well thought out plan that will pull two pounds a week off me, as long as I stick to it. Life is going along just fine and I am on track, then a slice of cheesecake crosses my path and the next thing I know, I’m in a carb coma wondering where the hell my will-power disappeared to.
So, how does one resist temptation? What truly motivates someone to do or to not do something? And most importantly, what makes sense or what is believable to a reader? I can guarantee that some of you reading the previous paragraph totally understand what I am talking about and there are others who don’t. For them it’s a simple equation of want to lose weight, don’t eat the cheesecake. But that is another topic.
When I work on character development, one of the tools I use is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to lay a ground work for why a character is tempted or motivated to behave in a particular manner. For the basic framework, it works for writing and in trying to figure out why the heck I do what I do in my own life. Unfortunately, Maslow didn’t have all the answers.
Given we all have different filters on our perceptions of the world around us and of how other people are acting, one can’t just assume that your motivators will be the same as your neighbors. Think about the work-place and if you have ever had to manage/supervise others. What motivates one employee to correct performance issues is not necessarily going to work on another.
Writing about truly evil characters is easy. They can behave in all sorts of heinous ways simply because we accept that the villain’s actions or motivations will be outside the norm or what we consider reasonable. If their actions were reasonable, they wouldn’t be such a “bad” character. Likewise, creating a traditional hero or heroine is pretty easy. Writing a true anti-hero or heroine is slightly more difficult (and I think incredibly fun) but what I find the hardest is taking a traditional hero or heroine and making them do something that on the surface seems to go against the grain of everything you believe of them. Some could argue that what you’ve done is simply flipped them to anti-hero status, but I disagree. It’s more complex than that. Finding that one event, that one temptation that even they can’t overcome, or that motivational need that answers the question of why. That is my current quest. (And maybe if I can figure that out, I can apply it to my cheesecake issue.)
What tools do you use to develop complex characters?
Mairead Walpole is the pen name for a somewhat introverted project and contract manager who has 20+ years of business and technical writing under her belt. In her spare time, Mairead seeks work/life balance and writes paranormal romance. Her first novel, “A Love Out of Time” is available through Second Wind Publishing (www.secondwindpublishing.com) or Amazon.com.