Building Strong Fictional Characters

My goal as an author is to become a brilliant author, but I can’t do that on my own. I need to learn from those who know more than I do.

I’m presently reading, for the second time this year, The Anatomy of Story – 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller by John Truby.

Mr. Truby methodically lays out the process of developing a story and its characters.

As authors, we are to know our characters’ motives. Characters must have a reason to be in the story and a plan for the plot’s outcome.

Motives have always been difficult for me. I think I know what my characters want, but I have difficulty expressing it.

So What is Motivation?

I just went through my other how-to-write books and read their table of continence. Only one of them had a chapter on character motivation. Maybe the authors mention it, but they don’t go into depth about it. That could be why I’m so shaky on the subject; no one ever clearly explained it to me.

According to Trubly, the character has a want and a need, both of which go deeper than just “I want.”

A want is a surface emotion.

A need is fulfillment.

Lt. Jessica M. Hewett

In my People of Akiane Trilogy, the main character, Lt. Jessica M. Hewett wants to return to Earth. She’s been assigned as negotiator to reunite Earth to a long lost Earth colony in the Pegasus Constellation.

I thought Jessica’s motivation was to get the job done and go home, but according to John Truby, there’s more to her than that.

Wants and Weaknesses

Characters have one or more weakness, and at least one is so overpowering it holds them back.

Jessica’s wants is to leave her old life behind and restart her life over. But her old life is holding her back from finding her new life.

In the first two books, guilt makes her believe it’s her fault that her mother left her and her father. Shame makes her feel responsible for her father’s death even though it was an accident.

She can’t move forward until she deals with the guilt and shame.

Desire and Weakness

In the third book, Jessica realizes her desire is love, family and home.

Jessica’s weakness is that she wants to go back to the times in her live when all was right. She wants to return to a time when she was little Mom, Dad and she were a loving family.

She wants to return to a time just before her father died and she was happily in love.

But those times are gone. She can never get them back.

Once she lets go of old memories, she’s be able to find that which is right in front of her and what’s she’s been looking for all along: friends, family, love, and home, all of which equal a life filled with meaning.

My Revelation

Trubly opened a deeper understanding of my character. I always knew where I was headed, but I didn’t fully understand the process of how Jessica would get there.

I had many similar revelations while reading The Anatomy of a Story that have greatly improved the quality of writing.

The bad news is: I didn’t have this book until the third book of the trilogy. If I had read it sooner my first two books would have been better written.

The good news is: I found Trubly’s book before I started the third book, therefore the third book will be a better novel.

What is your character’s motive—want and desire?


This post is part of a series of posts found under the category “Becoming a Brilliant Author.”

Check out my Amazon Author Page to find the first to novels of People of Akiane Trilogy.