Tuesday, April 9, 2019

What’s Your Character’s ‘Why?’ By Marie Wells Coutu

Your characters need a goal, not just a plot.
Every author who’s been studying the craft for a reasonable length of time knows their main characters need goals and motivation.

But I, for one, struggle to find my character’s true goal. I have what I think is an interesting plot, and I know where I want my heroine to end up, but what is her goal? Why does she want to get to that point (besides the fact that I want her to)?

Perhaps my hero will save the girl, or save the day, but he may not realize it from the beginning. He needs his own goal so that he can become the hero on the way to his goal.

Often in the early drafts, my character’s goals are “soft”—she wants security, he wants to redeem himself from his past sins, she wants to be accepted, etc. Finding a deeper goal and the “why?” behind it—the motivation—is something I struggle with.

K.M. Weiland provides helpful guidelines in her discussion of Mazlow’s Hierarchy of Needs (https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/characters-goal/). At some point in school, you probably learned the five basic needs of humans: physiological, safety and security, love and belonging, esteem and recognition, and self-actualization. I know I did. But somehow, it’s taken me awhile to see how they pertain to my characters.

Once you identify the basic need of your character, you then need to give it a concrete symbol. For instance, if her need is for safety and security, what does that look like to your heroine? Perhaps, in a romance, it will be winning the guy; in a thriller, it might mean seeing the bad guy punished and no longer a threat; in women’s fiction, it may be finding peace in her current relationships or satisfaction in her job.

For each character, satisfying each level of need will have a different physical representation. Sometimes goals can overlap, but rarely will a person skip over one level completely in order to attempt to satisfy a higher level goal. Your character will not focus on a goal at one level if the lower levels have not already been satisfied. If he is hungry (physiological) or afraid for his life (safety and security), he is not likely to be concerned about achieving esteem and recognition or seeking self-actualization. Your characters won’t either.

Keeping the hierarchy of needs in mind when you’re developing your characters or determining their arc will help you create realistic and fully developed characters your readers will love reading about.

Which of Mazlow’s needs does the protagonist of your current WIP have, and what physical goal can you use to show, not tell, what that need is?

Satisfying each level of need in Mazlow's #Hierarchy will have a different physical representation for each #character. #amwriting @mwcoutu @maryafelkins

Marie Wells Coutu finds beauty in surprising places, like old houses, gnarly trees, and forgotten treasures. When she’s not writing about finding restoration and healing through God-designed journeys, she enjoys taking broken things and making them useful.

The Secret Heart, her newest release, was named a finalist in both the 2018 National Excellence in Romantic Fiction Awards and the 2018 Royal Palm Literary Awards sponsored by Florida Writers Association. Her debut novel, For Such a Moment, won the Books of Hope Contest. Thirsting for More, the second book in the series was a finalist in the Selah Awards Contest and a semi-finalist in the Royal Palm Literary Awards. An unpublished historical novel set near Golden Pond has been a finalist in five contests.

She grew up in Kentucky, has lived in Kansas, Connecticut, Minnesota, Iowa and South Carolina. With her handyman husband of four decades, she now divides her time between Florida and the Midwest.
You can find more about Marie and her novels on her Facebook page (Author Marie Wells Coutu), at her website (MarieWellsCoutu.com), or follow her on Twitter (@mwcoutu) or on Amazon.com.

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