Conflict and Motivation

Saturday, July 17, 2010

I’m a believer in learning something new everyday.

This week, I’ve been discovering, or should I say re-discovering, what makes readers identify with characters. If you read the previous post, you know I’ve been struggling to see why readers were not sympathetic to my main character, a woman who was having an affair.  She’s the child of my imagination, so naturally she can do no wrong.

I got the same response from someone who read my second chapter. Interestingly, another reader said she was more sympathetic to a secondary female character who was also cheating, because although her actions were also wrong, she seemed more of a victim than my main character.

I couldn’t ignore what was obviously a problem for readers, so  I thought through their responses and clarified them in my mind.  Their comments and suggestions helped me craft a better first and second chapter.

I made my main character more sympathetic by going deeper into her point-of-view and making her husband more of a villain. It worked.  I did the same thing with my secondary character. Her husband had cheated once already, so I added another affair to his history.  I think this addition also worked well for the story. Let’s see what reader’s think.

I’m relearning that conflict and motivation are everything. For me it’s a simple matter of adding lines here or there that give additional depth to the character. However, based on craft articles I’ve read, it is recommended that conflict – in some form or another – be included on each page. It doesn’t have to be a knock-down, drag-out fight between characters. It can be as low key as a simple choice by one person that’s going to affect another.

If characters don’t have a solid or identifiable reason for the things they do, then they won’t resonate with the reader. As a writer, it’s important to me to create a character who is so sympathetic that the reader cries when she does, laughs when she does and comes away from the book feeling it was time well spent.

In an IM conversation with a fellow writer this past week, she said the following of one of my characters, ‘…that one is someone I’d want to be friends with.’ It made me realize I’d done a decent job for the writer to remember her after reading her story more than a year ago.

Let’s hope I remember to infuse conflict and motivation as needed while I edit, but I’m sure savvy readers will see immediately where I fall short.


  1. Hi Joy!

    Boy, you are right on target with this analysis - though of course, it's often easier said than done. I often find I know the motivations of my characters very well, but I don't always succeed at getting that across. Also, different readers have different levels of perception to understanding motivations through the information we provide as authors.

    I think I identified with your MC in that chapter b/c I know adultery does not happen unless it is rooted in some major problem with the marriage. You hinted at this in the version of the chapter I read, and that was all I needed to become engaged and want to know more. But adultery is a tough topic, and so I can see why a lot of readers would need the author to go an extra mile laying out why it's happening before they commit to the character involved.

    I loved that first chapter, by the way -- Very bold!

    Karin (Rita)

  2. Thanks, Karin,

    You're so right about adultery being a tough topic. I find that sometimes people aren't willing to separate their personal beliefs from the story being read, so yes, the author does have to go the extra mile to make the story work.

    Thanks for stopping in. For sure, I'll have to try and remember to keep motivation in mind as I edit this novel.


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