Motivation: it can be the factor in your writing that determines how readers perceive your characters. Think of your favorite heroes. Now your favorite villains. Odds are if you thought about their character arcs, you also can figure out their motivation.
Solid characters need something to drive them, even if they’re secondary. Because if a character has something to fight for, then you understand them. You may or may not agree with their decisions, but if you can understand the decision made because of their motivation, it often allows readers to forgive character indiscretions.
See the example with the latest Literary Music Lesson. When most people think of Norah Jones, they think of romantic evenings. It’s her brand and she owns it. However, her 2012 album featured some departures from what most people knew. One of her songs on the album, Little Broken Hearts, was the song “Miriam.”
The song stands by itself, but when you put the incredible one-take video, you understand the motivation brilliantly. If you’re unfamiliar, play the song below and rejoin the conversation.
There are many people who have been through heartbreak, cheating is one of the hardest ways to experience it. And when you’re the person cheated on it causes scarred and horrible thoughts. The character Norah Jones assumes for this song isn’t a hero. Told from another perspective and she’s the villain, but most wouldn’t see it that way. She’d be perceived as a flawed anti-hero, most likely. It’s because she took her actions to the extreme, but everyone understands why. To be clear: I’m not forgiving her for murdering a human being. What I’m saying is you understand why. Don’t you? And by understanding why you empathize with her. That’s good motivation.
Flawed heroes will sometimes make choices readers disagree with, but it doesn’t stop them from liking the character. It’s because they empathize with the motivation. While it may not be the smartest thing, a connection to the reader is made through that empathy. When someone is driven by wanting something, it creates a fleshed-out person readers can relate to.
So what motivates your characters? How can you push them in new ways with a deeper motivation? Have you ever let your motivation cause you to make a decision readers might protest? (Hopefully, murder hasn’t been involved). Chime in the comments section below.
Read the other Literary Music Lessons by clicking the images below: