Today I’m very pleased to welcome author (and author-y friend!) Kate M. Colby to my blog. Kate has just released The Courtesan’s Avenger, the second book in her Desertera series (and if you haven’t read her first book, The Cogmsith’s Daughter, get yourselves a copy now!). Set in the steampunk world of Desertera, The Courtesan’s Avenger is a tale of murder, intrigue and justice – I can’t wait to read it 🙂
Today, Kate’s written an excellent post about character motivation, something she feels is key to good story-telling. There’s a lot of useful information here, so read through and let us know what you think in the comments. Take it away, Kate!
As an author, the question I get asked more than any other is: “What advice do you have for aspiring writers?” or some variation of it. With the release of my second novel, The Courtesan’s Avenger, I finally feel like I’m in a place to offer some solid advice (without feeling like an imposter!). So, here it is: if I had
to give just one tip to budding writers, it would be to give your characters, both major and minor, a strong motivation.
Why? Because every person (or magical being or animal) you meet has a goal that drives them, influences their actions, and shapes their personality and worldview. Even a motivation as simple as getting through the work day, or as pure as surviving an apocalypse, can have huge impact on a character’s part in a story. For me, motivation is the core of a character and absolutely essential to creating well-rounded, complex, and relatable individuals. It’s also an aspect of my writing on which I really pride myself and I always love to see mentioned in reviews.
In my first novel, The Cogsmith’s Daughter, Aya Cogsmith is driven by revenge. More than anything, she wants to obtain justice for her wrongly executed father and resume her rightful place as heir to his workshop and trade. Aya’s vengeance is the guiding light of the novel and the vessel that influences her decisions (and therefore the plot). The goal makes her relatable to readers – who hasn’t felt wronged before? – and also leads to mistakes and stumbling points that give her further depth.
The sequel, The Courtesan’s Avenger, features a new leading lady with a similar motivation. Dellwyn Rutt wants to obtain justice for a fellow courtesan who has been murdered. However, unlike Aya, Dellwyn’s motives are not self-interested. She simply wants to see a wrong made right. Therefore, the path she takes is entirely different and far less dangerous. Instead of political turmoil, Dellwyn must face conflicts in her own sense of morality, strained friendships, and her inability to fully trust others.
Keep in mind, motivation shouldn’t be exclusive to your main and supporting characters. Know the motivation of everyone in your world. In The Cogsmith’s Daughter, there’s a scene in which Aya goes to a bakery. It’s early morning; the baker has been up since before dawn baking. She wants to get rid of Aya as quickly as possible, but she also wants to show a little kindness to the crestfallen young woman.
Because I know these short-term goals, I can express them through the baker’s actions and words. Will the reader identify them exactly? Maybe, maybe not. But the baker seems all the more real for having these goals.
On a similar note, feel free to give characters secret motivations. For example, Dellwyn’s employer has intimate connections to two of the other employees that I never tell the readers. These affect her aspirations for their careers, what she expects of them, and how she treats them. If I told the readers the full truth of these relationships, there would be a “lightbulb moment,” and the relationships would take on even greater depth. As it is, the employer’s motivations remain appropriately hidden (They’re not key to the plot, after all!), but her relationships to those two employees are complex, interesting, and feel real.
Motivation can make or break a character. It gives readers a way to empathize with, love, or love-to-loathe a character and creates a necessary depth within the character and story. In the case of minor characters, motivation is a simple way to take them from “good” to “great.” If you like character-driven novels (particularly starring strong females), complex relationships, expansive worldbuilding, and a dash of intrigue and romance, I think you’ll like my novels. If you liked the tips in this article, you’ll probably
like what I have to offer on my blog. Links to all this and more below.
Before I sign off, I want to extend a huge thank you to Helen Jones for hosting me. I really appreciate your authorly friendship and the opportunity to share more about my novels and writing process with your readers. If anyone reading hasn’t read Helen’s Ambeth series (What are you waiting for?!), I highly recommend it. It’s another great example of complex, motivated characters.
Wow! Thanks, Kate 🙂 So, what do you think? Like Kate, I agree that knowing the motivation of every character, even the minor ones, is key to presenting a well-rounded story. Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.
Kate M. Colby is an author of science fiction, fantasy, and nonfiction. Her first series, Desertera, consists of steampunk fantasy novels with themes of socio-economic disparity, self-empowerment, romance, and revenge. She lives in the United States with her husband and furry children.
Website – http://www.katemcolby.com
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