Character Motivations: Major and Minor

28 May

Current Status: Stressed

Food Consumed: Homemade butter cake; one slice

On The iPod: Home; Via Tania

Word Count: Stalled

This blog post should really be titled, ‘Character Motivations: Major and Minor, and How Not Knowing the Motivation of One of Your Characters Can Lead to Writer’s Block,’ but I thought that was probably too much of a mouthful.

Not even a week into my third and, I had hoped, final draft of my long-suffering WIP and I’ve already hit another snag – a major snag, in fact, because I’ve only just realised (I can’t believe it’s taken me three drafts to see this!) that I have absolutely no clue what is motivating one of my characters.

The character in question – let’s call him ‘Character M’ for the sake of the discussion – isn’t my MC (him, I know almost better than myself). ‘M’ is what I call a ‘floating’ character: he’s sort of hanging on the precipice between what is considered to be major and minor characters. He’s not lost to the background, and is pretty integral to the plot, ie. if I don’t put ‘M’ in there, the story won’t work.  He doesn’t get as much page time as my MC and his girl pal, but ‘M’ does form the cornerstone to a rather important thread, almost the backbone to the entire story, and without him there, the thread isn’t able to be tied off in a neat little bow at the end. But back to the movitation issue… or lack thereof.

‘M’ isn’t entirely without motivation. I know why he’s there on the page. I know the reason he’s needed, where he’s come from and where he wants to go. What I don’t know is the why or the how: why has he come to this particular place; why now; why does he have it in for certain characters and not others; how has he come to be here and how does it all fit together? As you can see, I’m pretty lost at this point. Short of writing out a complete character analysis on ‘M’ I’m at a loss as to what I should do.

Half my problem (or maybe all of it), I think, is that I can’t quite decide on what I want ‘M’s’ role to be. Without divulging too much information on the plot (I’ve always been fearful of doing that online; I like to keep my cards close to my chest), my main issue at the moment is: do I make ‘M’ a father or do I not? This is something I need to figure out in my own time and certainly not an answer I’m looking to any of you to give. Whichever I choose will greatly affect the outcome of the novel, so I need to choose wisely. I guess that’s why I’ve been procrastinating about it for so long.

How do you deal with character motivations? Do you write out a character outline during the plotting process? Or are you a pantser, like me, who has a general idea about a character and then just fills in the blanks later on?

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4 Responses to “Character Motivations: Major and Minor”

  1. Cassandra Jade 28/05/2010 at 11:51 am #

    If I’ve got a floating character and I’m really not sure what to do with them I do sit down and write a formal outline and if I still can’t figure them out I usually know it is time to rewrite or elminate. Most of the things floater characters do can be done by other, more developed characters anyway.
    Wishing you luck sorting him out.

    • thewritingant 28/05/2010 at 11:59 am #

      Thanks, Cassandra. 🙂 I think I do need to sit down and really flesh him out with a proper outline. I’ve already decided he needs to stay – I have such few characters in this novel that to pull him out would make it a little bland. Now all I need to do is fix him up and it’ll be sweet.

  2. Jingle 18/06/2010 at 5:51 am #

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Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Because I’m a Woman… « The Writing Ant - 10/06/2010

    […] for the present). The new draft is going along rather swimmingly. I think I’ve overcome my floating character obstacle well enough, the words are slow but they are still coming, so I can’t complain. Life is […]

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