I’ve been thinking a lot about character motivation lately. My turn is coming up soon for my local critique group, so I’ve been looking at the early chapters of Isto, Thanmir War‘s sequel. My buddy, Jim, pointed me to the John D. Brown archives on the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America website. Part 6 talks about Character Deservingness.
Thanks to Jim, whenever I read anything now, I think of the characters and wonder, “What’s your motivation?” Are they acting to save their own skin? Or are they doing it to protect others? Both make good stories. Maybe it’s a combination of the two.
But thinking along this line made me realize that I want to redo chapter 2 of Isto, or at least the MC’s section of it. Currently, the character is running because he doesn’t frigging want to become what this other creature tells him he must become. He has his reasons. He’s afraid he’ll hurt the woman he loves if he does. So he runs and his approach is to stay one step ahead, let others protect him, and hopefully never have to face it.
He’s acting like a spoiled brat, sticking out his tongue from behind his mother’s skirts (except in this case he’s hiding behind his daughter). Ha, you didn’t get me this time.
After analyzing what I think my character’s motivation is, and what it should be, I’ve decided he’s not behaving heroically.
Darn you, Jim. See what you did? You made me start thinking, and you know that never ends well.
The character wants to protect the woman he loves. That hasn’t changed. But is he going to flee and pretend he can win that way? Or is he going to do something about it before the inevitable hits?
The scene rewrote itself in my mind. Yes, he still runs. And yes, his daughter still saves him, this time. But now, his motivation isn’t getting away. It’s finding the woman he loves and getting her to safety, before he’s forced to step into a role he doesn’t want, and potentially harming her in the process.
That seems less selfish to me. That, to me, makes him more deserving.
What do you think about character deservingness? Do you find yourself drawn to certain traits within characters? What makes you root for a character?
And to everyone who sent well wishes about my husband losing his job, thank you. I appreciate all of you.