The principal character – your protagonist or hero – must have a need, goal, objective or volition to do something, or get somewhere.
- To overthrow the regime
- Avenge a murder
- Solve a murder
- Commit a murder
- Make amends for something they regret
- Want to find love
- Want to uncover where they came from, etc etc.
Exploit that need, and make it drive them to be active
Think of where your characters live, their world, as like a darkened stage. The only way that the Point Of View character can shed light and illuminate that world to the reader is by showing it to them, ideally through the action within the story. So make them go out and reveal their world to the reader.
Secondary characters also need motivations. These may be the different from or the same as those of the hero.These characters should ideally have a need and goal too, and an important story in their own right which also needs to be resolved. If that isn’t true and they don’t fulfil any supporting role then ask yourself – Why are they there? And if they fulfil no useful purpose, get rid of them or merge them with another secondary character to make them more important and useful to your plot.
The secondary character’s actions may make the hero’s quest easier or harder.
You will need to think about each character’s arc, and make each of them distinct and different from each other. You will need to weave all of the arcs and plots etc together to make a novel – easy right? Well yes, if you find points for the different elements to intersect – for the warp and the weft to come together to create something. If all the characters are after the same goal this may be right at the end. Or their needs and goals may create conflict i.e. put up barriers for other characters. Have fun thinking about the role they will play.
Stories must have conflict and these may be:
- The characters internal, personal struggle
- One character against one, or more other characters
- A character or characters against nature (famine, war etc)
The characters need to do something and go somewhere. They need to change as a result of what they experience and learn in the story. This is their journey or Character Arc.
But how do you tell if you have enough motivation to sustain a full novel? At a high level, you need to ask yourself the following:
- Are stakes for the central character high enough?
- Are their motivations clear?
- Are they appropriate for the genre and type of character?
- Are they sufficiently dramatic?
How to keep a character arc going over a series of books. You can:
- Make their goal difficult to achieve in one story.
- Make them get close, but not quite there.
- Then in the next book let them get closer but still not quite, then closer still, then put them out of their misery – Harry Potter to defeat You Know Who
- Give the character a new but related flaw in the next book that has grown out of the action and resolution in the last book e.g. Hunger Games
- Have the character just go through the same character arc in every book – Stephanie Plum (by Janet Evanovich – if you haven’t read it get One For the Money – it’s very funny).
- Or give the main character something different to do in each novel, but along the same theme e.g. they have to keep saving the world – I’ve been expecting you Mr Bond.