Fleshing out Characters Part One: Motivations and Idiosyncrasies


If characters are little more than excuses for scenes to occur a reader will quickly tire of them.  Sometimes this is not true, as some horror oriented genre stories have little time to flesh out characters before killing them.  The rest of the genres however can keep people hooked by having characters that are more than stereotypes or archetypes, and behave like real people with their own quirks and idiosyncrasies.

One of the first steps to a fleshed out characters is for each one to have their own motivations.  Notice I used the plural of that word. If they only have one, then they remain a stereotype.  For a short period of time the knight who is motivated by his code of honor, the swordsmen who wants revenge for his family, the mother who wants to protect her kids, etc, can be entertaining.  Over the course of a series or even a novel that can make a character seem one note, like they only exist for the single motivation.  To make a character better give them at least three or four motivations.  If possible, have at least one of them be set up for the sole purpose of clashing with the rest, so the character is not entirely predictable.

For example the person who wants revenge for his slain family may also have drives to protect his new (unrelated) family that might put him at odds with revenge (is it worth putting the new family in danger?)  Add a few motivations that are not directly connected to the clashing ones (he also wants to run a successful business, and to charm as many women as he can) and you have a more fleshed out character that in some scenes may have all four of his motivations at odds, and readers won’t be absolutely sure which way the character will go when faced with a challenge.

It helps to not make these completely random (they built a new family to replace the old one, running a business makes them feel accomplished like their father who they will never know, charming the ladies gives them a closeness they will never have with their new or old family, etc) but they shouldn’t all be slight variations on the same theme either.  Often when starting a novel you as the author may only know one or two motivations.  However if you pay attention to the scenes you are writing you may see small nuances in a characters dialogue or reactions that hint at more buried drives, or a even a flashy surface motivation (be the center of attention at all times!)  that stop your protagonist from being just another revenge/protective/heroic protagonist.

Those clashing motivations also underline the another important aspect of a  fully fleshed out character: Idiosyncrasies.  In many ways it’s the things that DON’T fit the stereotype about a character that makes them as memorable as the things we are used to.  Batman, unlike all the other vigilantes DOES NOT USE GUNS.  This sets him apart from the rest and is natural within the character (guns killed his parents) but don’t fit the other modern vigilantes at all.  Some idiosyncrasies happen so often they become a stereotype of their own (fierce large warrior who won’t hurt kids) but still have more depth than if they did not have those aspects that go against the grain of their core concept.

Much like motivations, to make it more real, let the idiosyncrasies flow from the rest of the characters motivations and back story.  The gentle merchant’s daughter who goes crazy and violent when animals are hurt does this because she spent more time with her dad’s horses and the hunting dogs than most people.  The normally taciturn blacksmith who in a bar can’t stop singing loudly with no shame might have had a father who blew off stress every night at the local ale house and have fond memories of when passing it hearing his father do the same.

As important as it is to have these aspects that make a character more than two dimensional it is just as important to have all the “layers” fit.  If the things that make them different flow out of actual events in their life it feels better than just to make a character “quirky”.  In a later blog I will talk about adding quirks to characters, but things like motivations and idiosyncrasies work best when coming from logical outcomes from a characters environment.

My next blog I will talk about a contest several GenreUunderground authors are having.  It will culminate in a blog swap, where other authors are writing for each other.  Whoever guesses the most wins!  There will be prizes involved including an really awesome grand prize from Bookbaby! (more on that next time!)

So with that little bit of information in mind, we come to our poll”

Poll

Will you check out some of the other blogs to try to win prizes this October?

1)Yes.

2)No.

3)I’ll wait until I get more information next blog.

World Info about the Allmother’s Fire series:

Adulthood comes at a time we think of as early in our modern lives.  People (men or women) can own property around the age of 12 or 13 (depending upon whether or not they have “come out” as an adult if noble, and if other commoners are willing to sell to them if a commoner).  Commoners tend to embrace adulthood younger, starting families often at age 15 or so, in order to have more people help on the farm quicker.

Nobles on the other hand have a formalize ceremony where they are first considered adults, and can be heir to a house (normally this is around the age of 13).  After this ceremony, they then either run the affairs of the house, or some women start learning at the Questionary for a like in the church.  After a few years (normally 2-4) they decide what they want to do, and start courting suitable mates.  This often leaves them a few years behind in family development then their commoner counterpoints.

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About mdkenning

E-book clockpunk fantasy author View all posts by mdkenning

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