Peggy Bechko: Character Motivation – The Wounds That Don’t Heal

motivationby Peggy Bechko

Have you considered what motivates your characters? What their background is? Whether it is your hero or a villain or some other character in the piece he or she has been affected by life. We’re all bombarded by tiny wounds, hurts and influences (sometimes large ones) throughout our lives. Your characters should be no different.

Think about it. Everything that happens, or we cause to happen defines us. Painful things even more so. They influence character. Whether focused on one ‘big one’ or a culmination of multiple lacerations (death by a thousand paper cuts) those things can chip away or blast away at a character’s self-worth, or can elevate it to the point of ego-mania.

So think about this; what kinds of events can come together to form this mudball of experience?

Well, there are literally thousands, and of course much depends on the grounding the character already comes equipped with, but understanding what or who has contributed to that ‘mudball’ can certainly help you as the writer move the story forward and without doubt does the same for your reader (of script or novel).

The obvious is something physical. Like a deformity or a scar or some disability that’s in your face. Such a thing can cause a character to feel alienated, alone, like he or she will never fit in anywhere. It can be very demoralizing and have great ramifications on the character’s self-esteem and undermining confidence. It can also cause a character to reach heroic heights while overcoming that physical ‘wound’ that’s carried. Which way would the character go?3399402-877974-dog-needs-a-meal-a-hungry-puppy

Another is mistakes. We’re human, we all make them but some are huge and some are every day. If it’s big enough or the character self-centered enough on a tiny mistake, it can be devastating. Guilt because of a bungled surgery can set a doctor character on a new path. A mistake that crashed the computers at work can make a worker fear for a job. A mistake or failure that affects someone else directly can make a character a target for revenge. Mistakes are a huge issue.

So is trust – when it’s misplaced and results in betrayal by another character. If it’s a real betrayal of trust it can send the character off on a trail of vengeance. Even if it’s not for that matter, if it’s perceived it’s dangerous. Is it a friend? A loved one? An acquaintance at work? Does it result in anger and the desire to strike back or more like a crushed feeling of disappointment that makes the character who was betrayed feel worthless?

How about injustice? It’s everywhere. Someone serves a long prison sentence for a crime he or she didn’t commit. A worker is blamed and fired for something someone else in the office did. A character’s dog is accused of biting someone it didn’t and is put down . How has the character reacted? How WILL he react?

Have a character who was rejected? Left at an orphanage and abandoned? Perhaps she is just an outsider in her own family with siblings that abuse her and ignore her, making her ‘odd man out’. A husband left in the lurch with a couple of kids by a wife who runs off with another man. A stalker who gets the brush off from the object of his desire.

All of these and many more feed into a character, created the person just as they do in life. Think back over yours. What were the influences good and bad? How do you think you might have changed had things been different?

Use it, use it all and your characters will burst into full life and give your reader whether script reader or editor a ride of a lifetime.