Good Characters—Day 5


There’s probably a lot more territory I could cover on this subject, but I’m going to end this mini-series with one last element I think is essential if a character is going to grab a hold of me early on and not let go.

Clear, understandable motivation. Poor motivation can derail the reading experience in so many ways.

Sometimes, when there is no clear story reason for a character doing or saying what he does or says, the hand of the author becomes all too apparent. Character A goes to place X simply because the author now wants him in place X. Nothing in the story requires this change, but the author intrusively makes the character do this unmotivated action, yanking the reader away from the belief that the character has wants and wishes, desires and dreams.

Or, if the character does something with weak motivation, he might appear stupid or foolish. Why would he fall for the same lie from the same evil woman after the first nine times he ended up in dire peril? It makes him look too gullible, too weak to cheer for.

(I’ve often thought that about Samson, to be honest. I mean, how many times did Delilah have to bring the Philistines around before he figured out that he couldn’t trust this woman? In all fairness to the man, I now wonder if he actually knew they were there, or if instead she called out and said they were there, but they escaped as soon as he flexed, because they realized he was still strong.)

Think Frodo for clear motivation. He first wants to dump the dangerous ring with someone far wiser than himself. Then when he learns of its power and danger, he accepts the assignment to destroy it—for the sake of the Shire and the peaceful way of life he now realizes he loves, for the people of the Shire, for the world of elves and dwarves, too.

Here we have a marriage of clear motivation with self-sacrifice. Frodo, of course, is also independent—a Hobbit after Uncle Bilbo’s own heart. He is also strong but vulnerable, as are all the Hobbits. He’s certainly complex, definitely takes action, and is self aware, more than Sam realizes in those last days.

Yep, I think Frodo is a pretty good character—engaging and memorable. I wouldn’t mind having him in my books.

OK, he’s been taken. One like him, then. 😉

Published in: on October 20, 2006 at 1:05 pm  Comments (5)  
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