I’ve been thinking about character motivation. I don’t think I need to sell anyone on the notion that believable characters act in consistent, understandable ways. That it is not good for a story when the reader says, “I don’t believe that character would ever do that.”
In life, however, we rarely know why anyone does anything. People don’t actually expound freely on their motivations, their decision making process. And some decisions can seem pretty strange.
It has also be noted that it can be good for a story when characters do surprising things. So if characters can and should do the unexpected and if it is realistic to never truly know the motivations of others, it follows that the author shouldn’t really worry too much about characters behaving consistently, right?
Wrong, unfortunately. It would be a lot easier if the characters could always just do whatever the plot requires, but no. One of the things we do in life, perhaps as a survival mechanism, is try to get to know people. One of the pleasures of reading or watching movies and TV is using our getting-to-know muscles on fictitious people.
Authors have been known to speak about characters taking on lives of their own, making choices and taking actions outside the plot laid out for them. This occurs when the author has taken enough time in contemplation of the character to get to know them enough that certain choices seem, well, out of character.
And what’s really magic is when, through the character’s perspective, the author comes to choices and decisions that would never even have occurred to him or her otherwise.
When your characters want to jump a certain way, let them. Don’t force them in a mold to fit the plot. Because if their actions seem off to you, their creator, how can you sell them to an audience?
A NOTE ABOUT THE BLOG: I write this blog on the bus to work. Due to a (happy!) change in my employment circumstance, I will not be bussing to work much longer. I’m not sure what this will do to how often I blog. We will have to see what works out.