For those who’ve read my books you’ll probably notice I’m a character driven writer. (According to my critique partners, I’m also the queen of sub-plots, but that’s another post.) About 99.9% of the time when I’m playing around with a new story idea, I’m starting with a character, not the world or the plot, but the main character. Why? Because the way people deal with challenging situations fascinates the crap out of me.
Maybe I’m a frustrated psychologist, who knows. Or maybe because my personal history reads like an chain of soap opera episodes, I just can’t shake the cray-cray side of human behavior. Whatever the reason, character motivation is huge for me when I’m writing. I need to know why my characters react to any given situation the way they do, and to do that, I need to know what events shaped their lives. Think of it like trying to solve a Rubic’s cube. Each twist is a character’s decision, and each decision is the result of something they’ve experienced. How they handle such twists and turns, determines the next twist or turn.
For example, when Raine McCord, from my Kyn series came to life, she was a warrior, but every warrior springs from some experience where they decide to be the person who stands up to right the wrongs or be the protector. This meant, she needed a reason for embracing that role. As I crafted her history, I knew that some of the fiercest protectors come from individuals who were once victims. But while they can be strong for others, their own sense of strength was skewed by losses and hurts. As her history evolved so did the world she lived in, and in turn, the challenges she would face when meeting a man like Gavin.
In my PSY-IV Teams series, each book focuses on a different couple, and each couple faces their own crucible. For Cyn and Kayden, it was guilt from a mission gone fatality wrong, for Tag and Risia it was the backlash of crippling psychic abilities, and for Meli and Wolf it was finding a strength of self when its been taken brutally away.
In my latest series, Fate’s Vultures, I have four main characters who live in a brutal world hovering on the cusp of change. Each of the Vultures carries a heavy load, but its how they handle that weight that determines how they face the challenges before them as they try to carve out a future.
I recently had a conversation with another writer and we were talking through why a story wasn’t working. As we chatted, we figured out that there was a lack of conflict between the two main characters. To correct that, we had to craft a history for each one so that when they came together, their approach to the relationship was naturally in conflict.
It sounds easier than it is, but understanding where your characters come from, what happened to them to make them who they are, and establishes how they will react to any given situation, is key in giving them depth and taking your story to a deeper level. Character motivation is what turns standard tropes into a stunning, heart-breaking, breath-taking story that will capture your readers’ hearts.
So when your characters are acting out, get their asses into a therapy session and dig deep.