- The main character’s goal.
- The storyline – primarily what the story is about
- The characters involved
- The obstacles created to thwart the main character
- The main character’s backstory
Monday, 29 September 2014
Motivation is a fundamental part of writing. It’s what makes us all tick; therefore, it also makes all your characters tick. What they do and why they do it is what drives the story forward to its conclusion. And the driver is always motivation.
Motives push us to act in certain ways, to get what we want, to achieve certain goals. Your characters are no different.
But how does a writer create the motives that make their characters behave in ways that help push the story forward? How do you create those character motives? How do they come to be?
Character motives come from various sources within the scope of the story. It isn’t just about the character wanting something and doing it. It depends on several other factors, too, but they all create character motives:-
The story line will have a bearing on motivation because the thrust of the story is always an ultimate goal (to save the save the world, save the girl/boy, find the truth, uncover the murderer etc.), so the main story always provides that main motivation. This goal is what the story is all about, so anything or anyone that gets in the way of achieving that goal has the potential to produce many different character motives.
Another factor to consider is the other characters within and pertinent to the story. They all revolve around the main character, so their interactions will have a direct bearing on what the main character does. How other characters act and react to certain things can shape what your main character does next.
For instance, you may have the antagonist behave in such a way that provokes a reaction from your main character which provides motivation to do something out of the ordinary or something surprising. Where there was no motivation before, there is one now.
Your characters are constantly judged and scrutinised by other characters, just like real life, so there is plenty of character motivation to be had with their interactions, because there is always a reason behind why people act the way they do. It’s important that the reader understands such motives behind your character’s behaviour.
Obstacles are fun to throw into the path of your characters. Just when things are going so well, you put up a concrete wall to thwart them. They have to find ways to overcome that obstacle and, therefore, find other motives – perhaps the motive to face a particular fear, or do something they wouldn’t normally do or the action it goes against their principles.
Perhaps they are motivated to deviate from their current goal and find themselves caught up in a sub plot.
The more obstacles you create, the more motivational strands you can generate.
One thing that writers tend to forget is the main character’s backstory. It may not seem important, but what happened to your character in their early life has a bearing on who they are in your story – emotionally, physically and mentally.
Maybe you have a character that was abused as a child, so the motives for his or her behaviours are carried through to the present story and drives the story forward in the present. Or perhaps a significant event happened or a trauma that still affects the main character. They provide motivations in the main story.
Elements that happen the past can become character motives in the future.
Remember that motivation is all about making the reader understand what makes your characters tick.
If we look deep enough at our own lives, we’ll see that there is a multitude of motives just waiting to be discovered.
AllWrite will be taking a well-earned break and will return 18th October.
Saturday, 20 September 2014
In part 1, we looked at how writers could engage the reader by using interior thoughts and how they help the reader to connect with your characters on a deeper level.
But how should a writer convey those internal thoughts?
It’s a question every writer asks, and there seems to be a lot of conflicting advice. And because it’s fiction writing, there is nothing really set in stone, other than common sense and guidelines.
Should you use Italics or underlines? What about capitals? What about quotation marks? There are no hard and fast rules – just accepted conventions and guidelines.
The idea with interior monologue is that it is not actual dialogue, so let’s discount the use of quotations straight away. It’s important to remember that interior thoughts have to stand out against the rest of the dialogue and narrative, so that the reader is immediately aware of the difference and recognises that your character is thinking to him or herself. It is a visual signal.
If you use quotations marks, the reader will not notice the difference between actual dialogue and interior dialogue, so don’t use them. Internal thoughts can be conveyed in the present tense, even when within a past tense story, because thoughts, like dialogue, are present tense.
Avoid using capital letters, too, because they can appear loud and intrusive, as though you are shouting at your reader. Capitals are a bit much.
There are two main accepted ways to present internal thoughts - Italics with dialogue tags and first person narrative:
Italics and Dialogue Tags
By far the most popular choice for writers is italics. (You will notice that traditionally published makes use of italics to convey internal thoughts, too, especially for third-person POV). It’s also less intrusive than using capitals.
Italics are a good visual signal to the reader once you have identified whose thoughts they are, and can be used on their own, but they can be used with dialogue, or thought, tags (he said/she said etc.), which tells the reader who is speaking, for example:-
1. Joel knew there just wasn’t enough cash. Dammit…
2. Dammit, Joel thought, there aint enough cash…
In example No. 1 it is clear from the narrative that Joel is thinking to himself, and the use of ‘dammit’ in italics signifies this and clearly shows the reader what he is feeling.
In example No. 2, the dialogue/thought tag ‘he thought’ is used within the internal thoughts, to show the reader Joel’s inner feelings.
When you’ve made it clear whose thoughts they are, you don’t need to use he thought/she thought again, because it will be quite clear to the reader that the italics signify that character’s thoughts.
First Person Narrative
The other way to show internal thought is the use of first person POV. By virtue of your story being first person, there is no real need for italics to show your character’s thoughts, for example:-
I checked my pockets for the money and immediately my stomach sank to my feet. Dammit, don’t tell me I lost it…
It’s clear from the example that the reader can tell the difference between the narrative and the internal thought.
Internal thoughts should always be from your point of view character in any chapter or scene. Don’t go from one character to another during scenes otherwise the narrative will become unreadable, and don’t show every little inconsequential thought. Only the important stuff counts.
To summarise, internal thoughts can do the following:
- Immediacy & connection with the reader
- Help the reader become privy to character’s thoughts
- Help divulge information & move the story forward
- Helps to advance the plot or build character
- Reveals deeper emotions and feelings
- Helps reveal motivations and conflicts
- Helps slow the pace
However you choose to show your internal character thoughts, always be consistent. The reader will appreciate it.
Next week: How do you create character motives?
Saturday, 13 September 2014
Whenever a character has any thoughts, whenever they think to themselves, or they talk to themselves during the story, it’s generally known as interior thought or monologue, or interior dialogue.
What it really means is that the reader is allowed into the character’s feelings to directly share his or her point of view, by using the character’s direct thoughts.
This device allows the writer to show what the main character is thinking or feeling, without the need to engage in conversation with other characters. It’s a good way to show what the character’s emotions and mood, strictly from their point of view. It allows the reader to become party to those thoughts, while other characters will be completely unaware of the main character’s inner feelings.
The benefits of Using Interior Thoughts
There are great advantages to including interior thoughts in your narrative. One of the main reasons is that it helps the reader gain an understanding of what the main character is feeling, it brings a sense of immediacy and connection and helps your reader identify with the character.
Moreover, it allows the reader to be privy to what is happening, just by sharing those thoughts.
It also makes it possible to learn about the main character’s true emotions, his or her fears, motivations and goals. It allows the readers to understand the character’s reactions to others, or particular events and situations etc.
It’s also another way for the writer to divulge snippets of information to the reader without resorting to large chunks of exposition and thus is helps to move the story forward.
How are they presented?
There are two ways to show the reader interior thought. You can tell them by simply stating who is doing the thinking, for instance:
‘Go right ahead, see if I care,’ she said.
Just watch me, Jason thought.
This example clearly shows Jason’s personal thoughts because ‘Jason thought’ is tagged directly onto the thought.
In this instance, however, once it is established whose thoughts we are privy there is no need then to keep putting ‘he thought’ after every instance of interior thought.
The other way is to show the reader who is doing the thinking by using narrative, for example:
In all this time, Jason had never seen his wife – soon to be ex-wife – act so selfishly when it came to their children.
His brows sagged. Selfish cow…
The way the narrative is written in this example shows the reader whose thoughts they are; therefore any subsequent thoughts within the scene will belong to Jason.
When should they be used?
They form part of your character, so writers have to choose the best time to show internal thoughts and take advantage of key scenes in order to enhance them.
Think about the dynamics of the scene – the kind of scene you’ve written sometimes makes it easier with the kind of thoughts the character has. For instance, does the reader need to see the character’s emotional weaknesses, or conversely, their emotional strength? Every character has fears, every character is vulnerable, depending on any given situation, and every character is susceptible to a range of emotions such as fear, grief, sadness, anger etc.
There may be an instance where you have action and drama and atmosphere. Interior thoughts from your main character can emphasize those dramatic moments and add to the overall tone and atmosphere.
There will also be moments within the narrative where it is advantageous to reveal more of your character to the reader, and interior thoughts are a good way to do this throughout your novel. It may be something as simple as revealing what your character really feels about another character, or what they think of the situation they are in. Readers love snippets of information like this, revealed from time to time like tiny gifts to unwrap.
Such character revelations also disclose your main character’s motivations. Readers need to know why your main character is doing what he or she is doing. What is driving your character forward? What is behind their actions? This is what is at the heart of any story – motivation. And motivation always drives a story forward.
Like dialogue, interior thoughts also help to slow the pace of the narrative, particularly in between fast paced narrative and action scenes. This is effective if you want both your character and reader to take a pause and reflect momentarily on preceding events, before stepping up the pace again.
In Part 2 we’ll look at how interior thoughts can be written – should you use italics, should you underline, use capitals, or just use normal sentence case? We’ll also look at some general guidelines on what not to do.
Next week: How to use interior thoughts – Part 2
Saturday, 6 September 2014
I get asked about this a lot, in fact all the time. The answer to the question depends on what kind of story you are writing, whether it’s a short story or a novel.
Short stories have fewer characters because in a 1000 – 10,000 word story there isn’t room to have that many characters; it simply doesn’t work. And short stories always work very well with as few characters as possible.
Novels – being full length – have the scope to cope with a larger cast. There is room to explore them properly, with main characters getting full characterisation and backstory, therefore giving them complexity and depth.
So how many characters do you really need?
In essence, there are only two characters that any story needs – the Protagonist and the Antagonist. All other characters are secondary or peripheral. They will either be relatable or connected to the protagonist or the antagonist in some way. They are there to enhance the plot and the main characters and to help drive the story forward. If they don’t do any of these things, they’re redundant and should be cut.
The fact is that any novel needs a certain number of secondary and peripheral characters who have a function within the story. That amount can be anything from 20 or 30 characters. That seems a lot when seen in those terms, but spread over an 80,000 – 90,000 word novel, it’s a fairly average number.
Too Many Characters
What happens if there are too many characters?
Every writer will make the mistake of having too many characters at one point or another, thinking that these characters are vital to telling the story, when in fact they’re of no use to the story or the writer.
Are they important to the plot or main character? If they are not important, or don’t drive the story forward in some way, they are not necessary. Having too many characters could confuse your readers. Not only do they have to keep up with the plot twists and sub plots, they also have to remember who is who.
Writers need to remember that most of the characters should be memorable in some way, so that the reader remembers them, recognises them and relates to them. That won’t happen with a case of hundreds.
Writers often create characters that might have a walk-on part, are seen briefly, may not say anything, and are then gone, never to be seen again. Sometimes these ‘walk-on’ characters serve no purpose to the story and should not be there. That’s not to say that peripheral characters should not be present, because they can be, as long as they have a purpose. If they serve no purpose, get rid of them.
One major problem with too many characters is that the higher the number, the less chance of having fully rounded and realised characters. Characterisation will suffer.
Another problem is that secondary characters may be left in the shadows, neglected. That’s simply because the writer has too many characters to focus on and he or she doesn’t realise that some characters have been left out. And some of those characters may be involved in subplots, so they need that attention.
At the other end of the scale, there is the common problem of having too many secondary characters slowly taking over the primary characters. Never allow secondary characters to overshadow your main character.
Writers also have a habit of inventing a handful of unimportant characters simply to serve a plot point or dish out some exposition, characters that have no purpose other than being there at the right moment, just to get the story and the writer out of a hole - deus ex falsis characteribus.
In other words, don’t use false characters to prop up a foundering story.
Too few Characters
Having too few characters can mean that the story won’t move forward. In a short story this isn’t a problem, but in a full length novel, it would be a difficult task indeed to actually tell the entire story through just a handful of people (unless you are an especially gifted writer).
Not only that, but sub plots cannot be explored with too few characters. That means the story cannot be expended to its full potential.
The story could end up being quite empty without the right amount of characters to support it, so it is all about balance. Any novel needs a decent amount of characters to tell a good story. Getting that balance right just takes practice.
They key to getting the balance right is to always explore your developing story and characters:-
1. Who are the most important characters?
2. What role will they play at the climax of the story?
3. Who are the secondary characters, why are they there?
4. Do each of the characters relate to the plot?
5. Do each of the characters drive the story forward in any way?
6. Who are the peripheral characters, what purpose do they serve?
Every story needs to be manageable. Can you manage with a cast of 20 characters? Perhaps 50 Characters? You’re in charge – in the end, you have to keep a close eye on all of them.
Next week: How to use interior thoughts/dialogue