by Fae Rowen
We all make hundreds of decisions every day, whether it’s to go one more day without washing our hair or deciding what we're going to read. Most of those decisions are routine and unremarkable. But I bet you can remember a seemingly unremarkable decision that had a big impact on your life.
This is true of your characters as well. There are important decisions that can affect the entirety of your character's life. Four particular areas carry a lot of power in guiding your main character through the story: motivation, backstory, conflict and character arc.
Decisions that show motivation
What if... In the beginning of your book your character makes an unpopular decision. We'll say it’s to quit school. Your reader may not agree. It's even better if your reader doesn't agree. You can get them to change their minds and their hearts.
If you show the why of how much, how long your character has wanted to do this very important thing, you build the motivation that will guide your story.
Maybe your character wants to join the military because of her brother’s service and questions around his death, or start a business, or volunteer with elders. Perhaps you show how much she loves art and working with artists. Maybe she paints “on the side” but it is a secret she’s never revealed. Perhaps you show how her love of her grandmother and listening to her grandmother’s stories has filled her heart with her family.
Whatever you choose, pick something that speaks to your characters overall motivation.
Decisions that reveal backstory
What if your character’s parents’ marriage was bad? As in a society father who flagrantly cheated on the character's mother? Backstory like this explains his reticence to become engaged. And if he finds out about a pre-nup that was very negative for his mother, won't it make sense for him to resist when his father pressures him to get a pre-nup of his own?
I bet you can think of lots of possibilities for a short backstory scene that will reveal a character’s reticence or determination about something.
Decisions that cause conflict
Your female lead comes downstairs for a family dinner, wearing green. Not her favorite color, but why are her parents livid? Because the dinner is in honor of a knight whom they are hoping will ask for her hand. His coat of arms is red. His enemy’s is green.
You got it. She doesn’t want to marry the man her parents want her to. She may or may not have feelings for the “green knight.” Whatever the reasons, conflict is sure to ensue.
Decisions that show character arc
In PRISM 2: Rebellion (available for pre-order July 1), the hero, Jericho, is the son of the wealthiest and most powerful man on Earth. Over the course of the two books you see his perception change from wanting to make his first billion by the time he’s twenty-five to recognizing his father’s deceit and disregard for planet Earth and the people under his care.
Jericho has fallen for O’Neill, his pilot and bodyguard on Prism. His decision to marry her is problematic because she cannot leave the prison world. He considered travelling back and forth from Earth, but it is a six-month round trip that he’s already made once.
When Jericho decides he can't bear not seeing O'Neill every day, his inheritance, his privilege, his way of life no longer matter. His entire character arc changes with that decision. Now he is more concerned that he has no skills suited to surviving on a planet that's awaiting a mercenary invasion financed by his father. And no matter what, he isn’t leaving O’Neill.
Are you struggling to show motivation, backstory, backstory, or character arc? Are you trying to come up with a decision your character needs to make to move your story forward? Share it down in the comments so our WITS readers can help you get writing again!
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Fae Rowen discovered the romance genre after years as a science fiction freak. Writing futuristics and medieval paranormals, she jokes that she can live anywhere but the present. As a mathematician, she knows life’s a lot more fun when you get to define your world and its rules.
Fae's second book in the series will be available for pre-order on July 1, 2020.