“He would never do that…”
Have you ever been reading a story, gotten to know a character and then, suddenly, they do something you are totally convinced they would never do? Yeah, me too.
I hate that.
It breaks the flow of the story for the reader, causes them to stop trusting you as a storyteller and gives them hemorrhoids. Well, maybe not the last one. All of us want to create compelling characters: Characters we can cheer for. Characters we can cry with. Characters we want to adopt and save. Characters we hate. Characters we fear.
So how do we, as storytellers, make that happen?
This is the second of a series on how to know what makes your characters “tick”. How they think will always determine how they act. Understand this well and you’ll be able to craft characters your readers will love, hate, identify with. Fame and fortune will surely follow for you. Guaranteed.**
Creating Compelling Characters Begins with Understanding Human Motivation
Characters are people too.
They act like people. They can be noble or ig. Brave or coward. Selfish or compassionate. But they should always act like real people. There should be a consistency to their actions.
Humans are motivated by two things – fear and desire. But you probably knew that already. In fact, if you are reading this right now, chances are you are a human.
We all seek safety and security
We all arrived on this planet the same way: Our parents made The Beast with Two Backs and 9 or so months later we popped out. Biology 101. Let’s take a minute, however, to go back a little further. Generations further.
In order for you to get here, you long-lost, African savanna ancestors did more than just copulate – they had to survive. Survive long enough to raise their children. Those children had to survive long enough to have children of their own.
Over the generations we evolved an overwhelming desire to seek safety and security. Those who didn’t were unceremoniously removed from the gene pool. Your characters are seeking safety and security as well. Oh, and sex. But I’ll cover that in a different post.
We create safety and security primarily two ways
How do we do it? How do we find safety and security in our worlds? Two primary ways: Actively and Passively. All people do some of both, but almost everyone has a single way they approach most of life.
We CONTROL our environment actively
Some people control their environment. They might be meticulous in managing their portfolio. They may emotionally or physically restrain the people around them. They take action. They are leaders, heroes, “movers and shakers.” Active controllers move your story along.
Jack Ryan, the character created by Tom Clancy, is a great example. He sees danger and he acts. And he sold millions of books because he was compelling in action.
We AVOID situations we see as a threat
Other people see danger and avoid it. They make their life as safe as possible. Take few risks. Underpromise and overdeliver. Their emergency fund has an emergency fund.
These characters are forced into action. They have to kill their attacker and feel bad about it. They are often the characters we relate to best because we can see being put in the impossible situations they get placed in.
Charlie in The Perks of Being a Wallflower is one of these characters.
Once you figure out HOW your character controls his or her environment, you can better write scenes where they have a crisis, a challenge or even a conversation.
Please feel free to put your comments or questions below.
*Photo credit George Crux.
** Guarantee not guaranteed.