The Nighttime Novelist...accomplishes more in about 240 pages than a dozen other "how to write" or "craft your novel" books have ever done.

--Helen Gallagher/Blogcritics
[Review]

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Thursday, November 4, 2010

NaNoWriMo Tip #4: Internal Motivation, Character, & Personality

One last note on the importance of internal motivation: What the character values and wants as a person, and why he or she wants this, is what differentiates a character who's there just because you've ordered him to be, going through motions, and one who's a full, complex person with depth and personality.

To use my go-to classic example (because it's one I know you'll be familiar with, even if you haven't read the book): What's Ahab want in Moby Dick? To kill the white whale, of course...a simple enough external motivation. But if I were to ask you what's his internal motivation, or even more to the point if I asked how you would describe Ahab as a person--would you be able to answer?

Of course you would: Ahab's obsessive. Manipulative. Bitter. Vengeful. Blinded by anger. Reckless. Unstable. Spiritually deformed. And so on.

It's fair to say that Ahab is single-minded in the book, driven by his need for revenge on the whale...but he's not one-dimensional. In fact, his single-minded obsession is what makes him unpredictable, volatile, dangerous. What's driving him personally--in addition to the external goal, and as revealed through his facing of the conflicts in the novel--it what makes him real.

To see some very good examples of how internal motivations lead to full, real characters, take a look at the following (very smart and funny) video review of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.

Discussion of character begins around the 1:51 mark, but of particular interest is the part that begins at 6:46, where the reviewer challenges several of his friends to describe characters from the original Star Wars trilogy versus the lifeless ones from the prequels "without saying what they look like, what kind of costume they wore, or what their profession or role in the movie was." In other words, to describe them as people. The result, as you'll see, is illuminating.

(Quick disclaimer: the reviewer has--um, how to say this?--a rather odd, dark sense of humor. And he drops a few F-bombs when he feels like it. Okay, so there's my disclaimer, in case odd, dark F-bombs aren't your thing. But the analysis is absolutely spot-on.)



PS--His friend's look in the still photo pretty much says it all.

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