onna-spy asked: Hey Muun! Congratulations on the Kickstarter!!! I'm really excited to see how the funding will result!!!! In any case, I had a question regarding writing character motivations and I was wondering if you wouldn't mind giving me a couple of pointers?
Character motivation is sort of the key to driving tension in a story. And maintaining tension is a very, very important thing in a narrative, no matter how short or long it is.
There’s a couple of ways to accomplish this, though my favorite is one I picked up from a screenwriting course. Essentially, take a character within a narrative and boil them down to one question. Then examine how your narrative will resolve this question. What kind of question should they embody? Well, a good way to get an idea for that is to look at a lot of movies and books and boil down the characters in those. Revenge narratives are really simple. There’s a reason a lot of movies fall back on them for lack of anything more identifiable. The big question is “Will this character get their revenge?” if yes, how. If no, why not. From there, you can come up with questions that go and mess with this desire line.
The key is to really par it down. “Will this character recover their lost memories?” “Will this character find their long lost father?” “Will this character achieve their childhood dream?” From there, it becomes a game of how long or short you want to make the trip from point A to point B. If you decide to start the character at the end of their desire line, it can be a boring story — unless, of course, you ask a new set of questions. “Will this character keep their position?” The TV show House of Cards (thinking the old BBC series) is actually a pretty dang good series in this regard. The character’s desire line changes with each series. In the first, he wants to stick it to the people who wronged him. In the second, he’s put himself in a position of power, but it’s not enough and he has to fight to keep it. In the third, he’s been comfortable with power but now he wants to leave a lasting legacy…
Basically you want a simple motivator at the core of a character — but from there you can find the smaller motivators and stack them. These desire lines don’t always have to be pointed in the same direction either. You might have a character who wants to defeat the bad guy, but on the other hand, they want to protect their family. So, then. What happens when the bad guy is revealed to be a member of their family? Again, using really basic stock examples here. But there’s a reason they get used a lot.
The key really is just to keep in mind a characters core want vs. their secondary wants vs their tertiary wants.
To use an example from one of my own things Luca in Sfeer Theory, for example, his particular goal in life is to be a teacher at Uitspan. At least, this is the desire line that’s the most forefront in his conscious mind. However, when I came up with the character, he was defined by a desire to have his talents acknowledged. This is his core want. Acknowledgement for his skill and his talents. What gets in the way of these wants? Literally everything. The setting. His own self-esteem issues.
Worse yet GETTING that acknowledgement might get him more attention than he actually intends… because he’s also a character that in some ways likes to avoid notice, because he also wants to avoid conflict. This makes him very frustrated character, who at the start of his narrative is defined by a deep-seated resentment and anger for the helplessness of his situation. This in turn kind of makes him a powder keg waiting to go off, with the right factors… I guess that makes him a ‘careful what you wish for’ kind of character.
But really, video game characters are actually some of the best to play this game with simply because video games as a genre are entirely goal-oriented. A character has to want something to move the game forward:
Booker DeWitt in Bioshock Infinite wants to retrieve Elizabeth to wipe away his debt — the entire first half of the game is about things getting in the way of this very simple desire.
Kratos in the original God of War wants to do the task assigned to him by the Gods so he can forget his family’s death. Everything he does in the game is with that in mind.
Elika in Prince of Persia 2008 wants to restore the land to stop a dark god from descending on the world. The PRINCE in the Prince of Persia 2008 started out just wanting to find his donkey and get the hell out of dodge, and his main motivating factor for joining Elika on this quest are just to…fix things so he can find his donkey and get the hell out of dodge. Of course, over the course of their interactions you learn WHY he had such a simple want is a bit more complicated than that. You learn exactly what factors make up someone who might’ve wound up in the middle of desert searching for a donkey laden with gold….
Basically, once you know the most basic questions about a character and the things that get in the way of those characters you can really start to figure out what makes them tick. And don’t be afraid to give your characters conflicting primary and tertiary desires! No one ever really wants just one thing out of life, and finding those conflicts are part of what drives character tension and creates really interesting, realistic characters.
Yeesh, that was a lot of words. I hope that helps?