by Kim Vogel Sawyer, @KimVogelSawyer
Before I started writing full-time, I was an elementary school teacher. Although I love what I’m doing now, I think I will always miss the classroom—witnessing the kids’ excitement at learning something new, watching them grow over the course of the year, and sharing my passion of history and writing with them. Even though I’m no longer in the classroom, I still have the opportunity now and then to teach at writing conferences, and my favorite topic is characterization.
For a reader to want to spend time in story world, he needs to connect with the characters. In other words, he needs to care about and root for the character. This connection comes about thanks to a wonderful little noun: motivation.
Motivation is defined as the reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way; or the general desire or willingness of someone to do something.A writer can put together a fairly strong story by giving the character a goal and then throwing lots of roadblocks in the way of achieving it, but to have a strong character—meaning a relatable, root-for, want-to-claim-as-my-new-friend character—there must be a viable reason WHY the character wants what he or she is after and WHY he acts the way he does.
I am a completely seat-of-the-pants writer. I do not plot (*shudder*). But before I start any story, I spend time with the characters who will people the story. I find out what they want physically (hold it in your hands), emotionally (under the skin), and spiritually (at their moral center). Then I explore why gaining those things are so important to the characters. For instance, below is the chart I crafted for Hazel DeFord, the main character from my most recent release, Bringing Maggie Home:
Because Hazel’s little sister disappeared when Hazel was supposed to be taking care of her, Hazel became an overprotective mother, never wanting to let her daughter out of her sight. This kind of almost paranoid behavior would be annoying If the reader didn’t understand the reason behind it. But when the reader realizes Hazel’s motivation for keeping her daughter safe stems from the trauma of losing her sister, the reader is able to sympathize with her. Most of us can relate to living with regret, which allows the reader to connect to Hazel.
I think most writers want readers to become so attached to the characters that they have a hard time putting the book aside and even think about the characters after they’ve reached the end of the story. To bond the reader with character, they must understand WHY the character is so determined to achieve his goal. Thus, motivation is key.
Hazel DeFord is a woman haunted by her past. While berry picking in a blackberry thicket in 1943, ten-year old Hazel momentarily turns her back on her three-year old sister Maggie and the young girl disappears.
Almost seventy years later, the mystery remains unsolved and the secret guilt Hazel carries has alienated her from her daughter Diane, who can’t understand her mother’s overprotectiveness and near paranoia. While Diane resents her mother’s inexplicable eccentricities, her daughter Meghan—a cold case agent—cherishes her grandmother’s lavish attention and affection.
When a traffic accident forces Meghan to take a six-week leave-of-absence to recover, all three generations of DeFord women find themselves unexpectedly under the same roof. Meghan knows she will have to act as a mediator between the two headstrong and contentious women. But when they uncover Hazel’s painful secret, will Meghan also be able to use her investigative prowess to solve the family mystery and help both women recover all that’s been lost?
Kim Vogel Sawyer is a highly acclaimed, best-selling author with more than one million books in print, in several different languages. Her titles have earned numerous accolades including the ACFW Carol Award, the Inspirational Readers Choice Award, and the Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence. Kim lives in central Kansas with her retired military husband Don, where she continues to write gentle stories of hope and redemption. She enjoys spending time with her three daughters and grandchildren.
Find out more about Kim at http://www.kimvogelsawyer.com/.