Just one week after I publicly committed to do one writing-related post per week, I contemplated handing this post over to life. Life is still unruly, and I’ve been struggling with my first character development for novel #2, which I’m writing in the form of a short story. I’ve left and came back to it several times over the last two weeks, but couldn’t pinpoint what was wrong with it.
On Tuesday, I read a post by Hilary Clark titled, “Conflict is Change”. As the title suggests, the post discussed how novels need conflict, but conflict isn’t always a confrontation between people. A change of any kind can be conflict, too.
This post got me thinking about character motivation. I know it sounds like a stretch, but conflict and motivation are tied together by a thin thread (kind of like my patience and sanity.) If you think about it, character motivation drives how conflict (both internal and external,) arises and is resolved.
And there was the issue with my story.
In my short story, there was plenty of conflict between the three siblings. The problem was that the main character’s siblings came off as self-absorbed, in an unbelievable way. I (finally) realized that the piece missing was a clue as to why they behaved that way. I was so focused on getting to know the main character, that I overlooked the others.
I can’t give away the story because I may post it here someday, so I’ll use another example: A grumpy old man who yells at children playing in front of his house may not be a likeable character. However, if we find out that the man’s wife passed away two weeks ago, we gain understanding, and possibly some sympathy. He still may not be likeable, but there is an explanation, other than “he’s a just a jerk,” so his behavior is more believable (and tolerable).
I may not always write a likeable character, because, well, it can be fun to write a despicable one and watch him (her) stumble. But the characters must be believable because believable is relatable – and if readers can identify with an aspect of the character’s personality, then they might just keep reading to the end.
Have you ever not finished reading a story or novel because of ‘unbelievable’ characters?
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