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the inner workings of Alison Miller Woods

Character motivation / emotional response April 17, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alison @ 5:43 pm

I’ve been thinking a lot about believable character motivations and emotions lately. I read a book recently that reinforced what I had been working on in my own writing.

It was a fun book- really cute idea and character voice. My issue was this: there was a really cute boy that the main character (MC) was drawn to. Problem = he was a jerk. Not just a ‘one time, maybe he was having a bad day’ kind of jerk but a serious jerk. -Including a humiliating bet-

But of course, within the space of a few pages he went from ‘Hot Jerk’  to ‘Hot Boyfriend’. Whaaat?

I didn’t buy it (or the step-sister’s turn-around) and the rest of the book I was in disbelief. I didn’t understand her motivation to trust him. I didn’t feel like she reacted like a real person.

In my own writing I had run into something similar. My MC was thrust into a situation completly different from everything she knew. Now I knew she was safe, and I knew the people who were there were nice so I had her responding slightly suspicious but accepting the explanations easily.

The editor that looked at it asked me a question that changed my approach. “Is this how a seventeen-year old girl would really react in this situtation?”

Woah. She didn’t know she was safe. That requires a different reaction entirely. Now it rings more true as a ‘real’ emotional response. The funny thing was, that as soon as I saw the question I realized if it had been someone else’s book I would of totaly responded with a ‘No way she would be doing that!’.

So, now for a question. How do we make sure that our character’s emotions and motivations are realistic? And if they aren’t what you would think of as the ‘normal’ response, how do we set it up so that is is believable to a reader?


3 Responses to “Character motivation / emotional response”

  1. I think your characters have a choice. It depends on what they are reacting to, and from that they have at least two choices on which way to go. Sometimes they may make an unexpected choice, and that choice could define them in a readers mind. They can make good or bad choices. It’s what happens when they make those choices that carry the story.


  2. Anon. Says:

    I think that if you make sure that you are being totally honest in your writing then your characters will react appropriately. No matter what kind of book you are writing you want the characters to be relatable to the reader and I think the best way to achieve this is to just make them have honest reactions. I think really just ask yourself, is this the truth? Is this how I or anyone else would react to this, or have I changed the reaction to get to a certain story point?


  3. alisonmillerwoods Says:

    I agree that the character choices drive the story. And I think that is why it is so important that the character’s choices make sense.
    They can be bad choices, stupid choices, evil choices, whatever. But, I think we need to be able to see the ‘why’ behind it.
    If it a choice that goes against everything the author has established as this person’s character then there should be a compelling reason. Even if that reason isn’t revealed until much later.
    But that’s just my opinion-


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