Temptation & Motivation

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.


Filed under life, Mairead Wapole, writing

5 responses to “Temptation & Motivation

  1. I saw a cute comment the other day: “Writer’s block is when the voices in your head refuse to talk to you.” My observation is that quality writers get concerned about how to proceed with characters because they want them to be perfectly written–up to the writer’s standard. Since no one is going to see the first draft, write them completely out of character–then go back and let them have their real imaginary lives back.

  2. I have been struggling with one of my “traditional heros” as you put it here. As his storyline is developing, he initially does some things that seem to go against reason. What he does isn’t what you expect, and for some his choice may make him seem weaker afterward. What I am struggling with is keeping him strong in the readers eyes, and for that they need to see and feel/understand his motivation. So THANK YOU, for this post. It is what I needed to be reminded of, when I needed yo be reminded of it.

  3. I’m with you, sister! I find that to make characters believable they require the same layering that the writer has acquired over many, many years of subconscious conditioning. I still haven’t figured myself out, which means my characters won’t know themselves as completely as they think either.

  4. For me, writing/developing evil characters is quite difficult. When I wrote Buried in Wolf Lake, I had to take on my psychopath a little at a time because he took so much out of me, emotionally. I had to build my internal strength to deal effectively with him. Same with my bad guys in An Altar by the River. Truly evil people are very complex–as are most people now that I think about it.

  5. dellanioakes

    Mairead, I love complex characters. In all my college Shakespeare reading, I came across Iago in “Othello”. He was driven, focused and determined. He would have his revenge against Othello, while still trying to maintain the cover that he was his dearest and closest friend. He died victorious, having robbed Othello of everything he held dear. Although he was a reprehensible character, he harbored great pain and anger. When I build a villain, I try to give him a strong motivation for doing what he does. Quite often, I find (if not respect) as least an understanding for him.

    Somehow, the characters come to me, revealing themselves bit by bit. I wish i could say that I know how I did it, but I don’t. They tell me their stories and i write them down. It’s a matter of exploration for all of us.

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