Objectivity in Character Motivation

The fourteen main characters of my story have yet again had their assembling reassessed.  It seems to have worked out since the character teams are in equal numbers.  If they are at the end of Book 2 is another story…

Where there were clear-cut motivations for the characters that appear in Book 1, now it seems their motivations are to be muddied until the end of Book 2.  This has been driven by trying to consider different character perspectives objectively.  Where Antagonist #1 and #2 were shown to be ‘evil’ very early in Book 1, now its final chapters have made me reassess if this should be so.

Antagonist #1 is driven by lust for power, but should her decision to seek the power be for a ‘good’ cause?

Antagonist #2 is tormented by his past, but is his cause driven by desire for revenge or to protect innocents from the suffering he experienced?

The descriptions below I will not classify as Antagonist or Protagonist, as it would require a *SPOILER ALERT* tag.

Character #3 is being driven in different directions by his past.  He runs from what he has lost, yet he is looking to reclaim it at the same time.  Sounds like a conundrum, but I promise it will be understandable.  But is his cause good or bad?

Character #4 runs from persecution for a deadly event he accidentally caused.  I am still working on clarifying his motivation, though the public wanting his death seems reason enough to flee.

Character #5 runs from persecution for a deadly event he deliberately caused.  I cannot find a way to bend his story other than to desire revenge against those who condemned him, pure and simple.

Character #6 is saved from certain death very early in Book 2.  Her story will be the driver of Book 3, and is the one I’m most proud of.  While her actions will be understandable, they will most definitely be evil.

Character #7 is a ‘wild card’.  You’ll never be sure which side of the fence he sits on.

Character #8 has found contentment in his life after many years of emotional pain.  Yet he will find what he thought was lost forever never was lost.  I could not come up with his character, until I found out about a folklore story that existed in my story’s historical timeframe, and it was PERFECT!  That the lady in the story had the same first name as Antagonist #1 made it even better.  Now even Book 1’s desert sequence has meaning!  I would be as proud of this as Character #6, but this is not as original a thought.

Now for the other 6 characters…  well, having something to focus on is better than nothing I suppose.


7 thoughts on “Objectivity in Character Motivation

    • Larger character numbers are hard, but it depends on how deep a character study you are aiming for. Not sure about you, but the motivation for the good guys is always the hardest to find.
      With 7 books to fill, and an aim of 140 chapters, hopefully that will end up being enough to give each character enough flesh to their stories.

      • Hi, there! I just got finished responding to a comment you made on my site about setting up morals to stories and writing good characters, and my recent answer to you made me think of yet another quote from La Rochefoucauld. You say that it’s hard to find motivation for the good characters (and I agree with you about that, assuming you mean angelically good rather than full of complexity and good at the same time). La Rochefoucauld said something like: “If we manage to resist our worst impulses, it is rather because of their weakness than because of our force.” That might work for a character or two, don’t you think? A sort of wishy-washy goody-two-shoes who would be worse given a little more force of personality? Just a thought.

      • The weakness of the impulse as opposed to the weakness of character? That is an interesting way of looking at the situation. Life is as hard as we make it, through our embracing of an impulse?

        Because the good characters play by the rules, their development is linear because they are constrained in their actions by a ‘moral code’. The bad characters are interesting because they are allowed to be unpredictable, as will prove to the viewer/reader just how motivated they are to achieve their end goal.

        If you will forgive my WWE comparison, the most popular good guys have been bad guys to start with. Even Hulk Hogan went bad after so many years of being good. The current WWE Champion, CM Punk, is a bad guy, yet most of what he says to defend his actions is actually true. Being able to defend your position by not lying is the mark of the best bad guys. As Obi Wan Kenobi told Luke Skywalker, “Everything I told you was true… from a certain point of view.”.

        My good characters unfortunately will be linear. But the way to defend their linearity will be showing what led them to their current situation. Many of my good characters need to have shady pasts, then become good by learning the errors of their ways.

      • Yes, you sort of lost me on the WWE, I’m not a fan of it, but I think I got your essential point anyway. What you say about linearity is interesting–I suppose good characters, because they tend to live by prearranged codes of behavior, are more linear. But maybe you could also have a control freak bad character (like the one in Emma McCoy’s Blog, which features her novel), who doesn’t change his (or her) behavioral path much because he (or she) is a control-oriented psychopath. What do you think?

      • Control-oriented psychopath? That sounds very much like Antagonist #1. She lusts for power she will not be provided by proper means, and as the series goes on one will see how evil her acts will become to ensure she secures the power.

        I guess good guy linearity is because the accepted thought is that good people are not good people all the time. Think Tiger Woods. And if they are linear, it needs to be because of something happening to them in their past to make them so unwavering in their ‘fighting the good fight’.

        Protagonists #3 and #4 are going to be like that. They link together from a different world event.

        #3’s ‘good fight’ motivation will be because of an event that cost him his livelihood, and he goes shady before seeing the ‘error of his ways’.

        #4’s motivation will be more straight-forward (her name and role will make it obvious). She backs up #3, but she still resents him somewhat due to the ramifications of the event that ended up bringing them together.

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