Tag Archives: motivating a character

Making Sense of Life’s Disorder — by Pat Bertram

Life is often disordered, but fiction cannot be. We read fiction to make sense of life’s disorder, and we demand that things make sense. No matter how well ordered the rest of the plot, when a stranger comes and simply hands the hero the one element he needs to complete his mission, we feel cheated. The hero should have to work for his goals.

This same order must be inherent in every bit of the book, characters as well as plot. Foolish and spontaneous actions, arbitrary decisions and behavior make the story unbelievable. A character can’t simply wake up one morning with a desire to change jobs, or go on a quest, or hunt for a murderer. While such whims are a part of our lives, they are not part of fictional characters’ lives. All their decisions must be motivated.

A character can wake up one morning with a desire to change jobs, for example, but the author needs to add a few words to explain why: a quarrel with a boss, a promised promotion that doesn’t materialize, a backbiting co-worker. If a character must quit on a whim, the author has to establish motive from within the character. Perhaps the character always acts on whim, in which case the author needs to show that. Or perhaps it’s June; the scents seeping in the open window remind the character of the long summer days of childhood, and he has an overwhelming need to experience that freedom again.

Readers will believe almost anything an author wants them to believe, as long as it is motivated.

At the beginning of my book, More Deaths Than One, I have Kerry, a graveyard-shift waitress, showing an interest in Bob, the quiet hero, who stopped by the coffee shop every night for a hot chocolate. I always thought it was enough that she was bored and was playing games with him, trying to get him to talk, but a reader told me she found Kerry’s motivation for involving herself with Bob a bit thin.

Because Bob is debilitated by headaches and nightmares, I need Kerry to push him into action when he discovers that the mother he buried twenty years ago is dead again and that he has a doppelganger living what could have been his life. If her motivation for involving herself with Bob isn’t believable, then the whole book falls apart.

On the other hand, most readers seem to think the connection between Bob and Kerry is believable. She’s bored, unhappy with her present boyfriend, craves excitement. Perhaps boredom isn’t a good motivator (though we know that it is — we will do almost anything to keep from being bored) but once Kerry starts uncovering the truth of Bob, there is no way she’ll walk away from him and the excitement he brings to her life.

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Pat Bertram is the author of Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. All Bertram’s books are available both in print and in ebook format. You can get them online at Second Wind Publishing, Amazon, B&N and Smashwords. At Smashwords, the books are available in all ebook formats including palm reading devices, and you can download the first 20-30% free!

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Write Intelligently. At Least Until You Become A Bestselling Author

I’ve been reading the novels of a bestselling author, trying to figure out the secret of her success, and for the life of me, I don’t see it. Perhaps it’s hidden beneath her appalling writing style, but most times her poor writing dims any possibility of my enlightenment.

Even a neophyte writer knows that any action a character undertakes must be motivated. Although in life we often act on a whim or a hunch, when a character in a novel does it, it comes across as too slick, too much author convenience, as if the writer couldn’t be bothered to take the time to come up with a plausible motive for the action.

For example, in one book by that bestselling author, she has someone searching the character’s house for a set of papers that weren’t there because the character had removed them on a hunch. You and I could never get away with that! We’d have to come up with a motive, and it’s not that difficult. The character could have taken the papers to a diner to peruse them during lunch. Or maybe taken them to a safe deposit box. Or any reason other than a hunch. (Unless, of course, we establish that the character often acts on hunches, which this author didn’t.)

Even worse, when the character found out her house had been searched, she was stunned. Then why the hunch to remove the papers? Maybe she was expecting rats to eat them.

In a roundabout way, I suppose I did learn something: write intelligently.

At least until one becomes a bestselling author.

Pat Bertram is the author of More Deaths Than One,  and A Spark of Heavenly Fire now available from Second Wind Publishing, LLC.

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