IN a recent article I wrote about how to avoid blunting the creative impulse resulting from excessive preparation of a novel or screenplay.
I suggested that for some writers knowing the protagonist’s obsessive desires, then placing obstacles in her way, is enough to start us writing.
But for those who need to know a little more about character motivation from the start, what other background facts would be helpful?
Character Motivation in a Novel or Screenplay
In a chapter on shaping character Lagos Egri suggests that we first need to understand the underlying causes of obsessive desire for a specific goal. Is the action driven by jealousy, as in Othello? If so, we need to know that before jealousy there is suspicion; before suspicion there is antagonism – a primary motivator of hate; before antagonism there is disappointment.
Identifying the underlying emotions that drive our characters will help us propel them through the story. Strong ambition, for example, implies the need for fame, wealth, power. But all of these might stem from a suppressed but potent sense of insecurity. In constructing that particular sort of character, then, the writer knows that she has to include scenes which explore these emotions.
In my YA novel, The Land Below, Nugget’s hatred for Paulie, the story’s protagonist, arises from jealousy. Anthea, the girl he loves, seems to like Paulie, a mere labourer, more than him. Being a senator’s son, Nugget believes he is the superior choice. Her preference for Paulie, undermines his fragile confidence in himself.
Additionally, he fears that his failure to procure Anthea will diminish him in the eyes of his father, whose success is difficult to emulate. Coming up with a plan to defeat Paulie, therefore, stems from his jealousy, which in turn, springs from his insecurity.
In brief, then, exploring the chain of emotions that results in a character’s obsessive desire, is a useful spur to the writing process.
Know what lies behind your protagonist’s desire to achieve some tangible goal, prior to starting your screenplay or novel.