Why do your characters do what they do?
It seems like a simple question. And, likewise, a simple answer. Why do they do what they do? Because they want to.
Okay, but why?
Character motivation is one of those topics that seems pretty straightforward. You have a character, and you want them to do something, so they need a reason to do it, right?
Well … hopefully, yes. But in practice, is that what’s going on in our writing? Does our character really have motivation … or are we just putting them in a position to do something by necessity, or where they’ll go along with the flow?
Yes, this is a basic topic. But it’s one that feels justified simply because it can become a major stumbling block for newer writers. Often I’ve picked up a story about some characters setting out on a globe-trotting adventure only to wonder halfway through the opening chapter “Okay, but why?” because the author was so keen on getting to the adventure that they neglected to put much work into explaining how the character got there in the first place. Which isn’t to say that the motive may not have been there, just that the author neglected to mention it or explain it fully.
Right, so two possible problems, there. The first is that the author isn’t giving their characters enough motivation. The second is that even when they are, they aren’t explaining them adequately. So, what can we do about that?