• THE
    Writing Prompt
    Boot Camp

    Subscribe to our FREE email newsletter and get the Writing Prompt Boot Camp download.

Motivate Your Characters Like a Pro

Categories: Creative Nonfiction Writing, Haven't Written Anything Yet, Writing for Beginners, How to Improve Writing Skills, How to Start Writing a Book, 1st Chapter, How to Write a Horror Story, Writing Horror, How to Write a Mystery, Writing Thrillers, How to Write a Romance Novel, Romance Writing, Humor & Comedy Writing, Literary Fiction Writing, Memoir Writing & Memoir Examples, Spiritual Writing, Writing for Children & Young Adults, Writing Science Fiction & Fantasy, Writing Your First Draft Tags: craft/technique, fantasy, horror, memoir, mystery, nonfiction, paranormal, plot/structure, romance, science fiction, thriller, western, young adult/writing for kids.

Edgar-nominated author D.P. Lyle, MD, advises that to begin developing a character’s motivation, you should first decide where he or she falls—at the beginning of your story—in each of these key spectrums:

Tough Guy <–> Whiner
Team Guy <–> Rebel
Artist <–> Dreamer
Smarty <–> Dummy
Blooming Rose <–> Wallflower
Grinder <–> Lazy Dog
Goody <–> Baddy
Believer <–> Doubter

Now, look ahead to where you plan for your story to end. Where will your character fall on all of the above spectrums, once the story arc has come to its close? Motivated characters all have one thing in common: They change. Use the above spectrums as a barometer to measure that change—and by the end of the story, the character should fall at the opposite end of most or even all of the above ranges.

Lyle illustrates this with his example of what he calls “the perfect thriller:” The Terminator. “It hits on every note in the right order perfectly, from beginning to end,” he says. “It is the greatest character arc maybe in the history of the world.”

To see why, perform the above exercise, measuring Sarah Connor’s character trajectory on all of the above spectrums. Through the course of Terminator, our protagonist changes from a whiner to a tough guy, from a team player to a rebel, from a dreamer to an artist, from a dummy to a smarty, from a wildflower to a blooming rose, a lazy dog to a grinder, a goody to a baddy (in a manner of speaking) and her belief system is shaken.

Now, try it with your own characters in your work-in-progress. How can their motivations be stronger?

Afraid your character’s motivation isn’t strong enough?
Strengthen it with:

Elements Of Writing Fiction: Conflict, Action & Suspense

Become a WD VIP and Save 10%:
Get a 1-year pass to WritersMarket.com, a 1-year subscription to Writer’s Digest magazine and 10% off all WritersDigestShop.com orders! Click here to join.


Also check out these items from the Writer’s Digest’s collection:
Writer’s Digest Elements Of Writing Fiction: Beginnings, Middles & Ends

Writer’s Digest Elements Of Writing Fiction: Scene & Structure

Writer’s Digest Elements Of Writing Fiction: Description
Writer’s Digest Elements Of Writing Fiction: Characters & Viewpoint

Writer’s Digest No More Rejections
Writer’s Digest Weekly Planner

Writer’s Digest How to Land a Literary Agent (On-Demand Webinar)
Writer’s Digest Magazine One-Year Subscription
Writer’s Digest 10 Years of Writer’s Digest on CD: 2000-2009

You might also like:

  • Print Circulation Form

    Did you love this article? Subscribe Today & Save 58%

Leave a Reply