Advice: What a Character Needs

Characters are the most important asset that your story has. Characters are likely what will draw you into a writing project the most, they’re what readers will engage with the most, and they are the people who are going to be occupying your brain-space while you’re working on a given writing project. Of course, because characters are so important, that means they also require a lot of work. Once you have the idea for your plot, and have created a world for the plot to take place in, you’ll probably be looking to populate that world with some characters. It’s important to take time to develop these characters and to understand what will make them interesting and well-rounded.

A recent post on Chuck Wendig’s blog, Terrible Minds, addressed three things that characters need: motivation, action, and consequence (or, MAC). All three of these are pretty simple principles, and Chuck does a great job of explaining them all in his post.

First, your character needs a motivation that’s driving him or her to act. Chuck says, “This isn’t just a small-time yeah, maybe I want that. This is something they are motivated to achieve. Motivated as in: moved to act.” This is pretty simple — if your character has no real motivation, you’ll probably end up writing pages and pages of him or her walking around the neighborhood or sitting in a chair at home whiling away the hours. Your characters need to want something so they can interact with the world and the plot that you’ve created.

Next up is action. Your character needs to do something or you’ll be writing in circles. What your character wants has to force him or her to act in some way that will propel the plot of your story forward. This can be difficult to do sometimes, and I think it’s good to remember what Chuck says here: “[Your characters] are forced by their want/need/desire to do something. Not talk about it. Not just turd around and ruminate upon it. They are pushed to drastic, compelling, fascinating action.” Try not to write about your character thinking about doing something. Just have them do it!

Finally, consequence. If your character can sail through life with no consequences coming upon him or her, that’s not very realistic. There will be consequences to actions, even in fantastical, magical, fictional worlds. If your character gets everything that he or she wants right off the bat, the story will be over really quickly and readers will likely get bored. Throw wrenches in your characters’ plans, place obstacles in their way, and interesting things will begin to happen in your story.

Keep the MAC principles in mind when getting started, and your story should get off on the right foot. Happy writing!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

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