Comic Talk and General Discussion *

Motives – the character compass
usedbooks at 4:33PM, April 21, 2019
posts: 3,227
joined: 2-24-2007
I create a comic (and other stories) with an ensemble cast. Once I get going, they manage to continue moving apparently under their own power with good momentum. Any time, I get stuck, I usually get unstuck by looking with fresh eyes and asking what the issue is. Usually it is trying to force a point or a character is “out of character.”

I found myself reflecting on how to keep characters “in character” and what the most important part of character creation and development is. The way I focus and keep dialogue and actions true-to-character all comes down to their motivation(s). The most enjoyable characters to both read and write are ones with simple and easy-to-define motives. By reminding myself of a character's motives, plotlines and dialogue align themselves quickly.

If you struggle with characters, whether making them unique, keeping them in character, or finding their voice, take a moment to list their motivations. Keep it simple, something you can remind yourself of if you hit a sticking point. Early in a story, a character may have only one apparent driving motivation but secondary ones may be apparent later – or may exist temporarily due to circumstances of the plot. In an ensemble cast, there can be some overlap, but no two major characters should have exactly the same motives.

For example, one of my antagonists, Jack, is motivated by wealth, but he is even more motivated by pleasure. He puts wealth above anything else (loyalty, health, safety, other people). But he puts having a good time above that. If he has to choose between a fun party or a monetary score, he'll usually pick the former. He takes threat to his wealth or happiness extremely seriously (while not caring so much about threats to his friends). Another example, my character Seiko is motivated by a desire to help others. Her motivation of the moment might become self-preservation, but if in a situation where that conflicts with her primary motivation, she has to decide between the two (and sometimes picks the former). My character Fudo struggles with his motivation to destroy evil conflicting with his love for Kaida (who wants him to stop the former).

Defining characters by their motives can help flesh out plotlines too. Do the motives change as the character goes through trials? What happens when their motives contrast with each other or with the situation? What perils could having that particular drive cause? Or you can use them to help develop a backstory. Why is the character so driven to pursue that motive? Did it change in the past? Did it cause problems?

It can be a quick way to get into their heads and switch between them when planning dialogue, especially in multi-character scenes.

Character A = logic-driven, wants to solve puzzles
Character B = fear-driven, wants to get away and go home
Character C = peace-keeper, always trying to find compromise
Character D = attention-seeker, just making jokes and having fun
Character E = natural leader, always takes charge
Character F = highly competitive, trying to prove they are the best

A good place to see this is by looking at series with ensemble casts. For example, in Star Trek, you can easily define motivations of each character. When a situation arises, how each will react is at least somewhat predictable. If they act contrary to expected, then the show owes the audience an explanation for it (which is part of the plot).

There's no real point to this post, I just wanted to see my thought processes in print and see if anyone else uses the same or similar tricks in writing. Do you define characters by their motivations? Does it help you focus and keep the plot and dialogue natural?
ozoneocean at 7:07AM, April 22, 2019
posts: 27,461
joined: 1-2-2004
Should be a newspost :)
Genejoke at 11:02AM, April 22, 2019
posts: 3,899
joined: 4-9-2010
Or added to tutorials maybe.

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