Posted by: Phil Anderson | March 24, 2013

Motivating Myself and My Characters

(Sorry for the false start earlier this weekend. I tapped the wrong button and published my work-in-process instead of saving it as a draft copy. Here’s the finished post.)

Occasionally when I’m writing or editing I find that I’ve created a passage that is just dull and pointless. The dialog seems to ramble and it takes a lot of words to make very little progress. Often it’s expositional, when I’m trying to provide background for the reader, but sometimes I’m trying to explain away or justify a character doing things that are illogical or out of character. When I recognize that, I need to step back and evaluate what I’m doing.

One of the keys to making a character compelling is to remember their motivation. What do they want, or what are they trying to accomplish? Almost everything they do should be focused on that goal or purpose. They can stray a little on occasion, but if they wander too far I find I’m defending their actions and making excuses for them, and that’s not interesting to read. That’s when I have to either find another way to accomplish what I need done, or go back and re-evaluate the character’s motivation.

Sometimes I need to look at my own life the same way. I wake up every day, go to work, do the things that need to be done, and go to bed wondering what I’ve achieved. At times it seems dull and pointless, like I’m rambling along without making any progress. I ask myself why I’m here, and what I’m trying to accomplish.

The things I’m doing are (almost) all good. I have family responsibilities, work responsibilities, church responsibilities, and I squeeze some writing time in there too. I enjoy playing video games, but I rarely spend any time on them because there are lots of other things that are more important. I like to read books and watch movies too, but I don’t have much spare time for that either.

As a Christian I believe my primary purpose is to please God, which encompasses all those other things. Everything I do should be focused on that goal. For example, there are lots of ways I can parent my children, but if I choose the way that pleases God then I’m focused and I’m accomplishing my purpose.

So each of us, whether we’re a real person or a fictional character, need to have a goal or purpose that motivates us. We need to focus our actions and attention on that purpose, and not get distracted by wasting time and effort on things that don’t matter. That’s the path to meaningful fulfillment, and it makes for a much more interesting story, too.


  1. Is this an oops post? I am missing most of it. Looking forward to reading the rest of it.


    • Yeah, that was an oops. The full post is up now.

  2. I’m an email subscriber, but I didn’t get a second email, letting me know when the full post was up. Just an FYI… since I obviously found it.

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