Writers have a lot of avenues to collect advice on how to write characters. I’m not the kind of person that tells people how to write. I come from the Charles Bukowski school of writing:
That being said, I was talking with a few people who have some of my business affairs at heart, and as I was discussing a particular character for a book I have in development (not list on here by the way, so you’ll have to wait), they said “Matthew, you really need to discuss your insight into writing people, because you don’t have the same information to provide, you don’t from a purely academic background in writing, and you have experience with real world characters.”
I thought to myself the same thing I always think: No one cares what I think about writing, they only care about what I write, because that’s all anyone has ever cared about.
But they pushed me about this, so I thought I would give a little bit of advice about writing characters that I find useful. This isn’t necessarily universal truth, so don’t think you can apply it to all characters. In fact, that’s the first thing to remember: if you think it’s something you can apply to all characters, you’re wrong.
No one in this world exhibits the same kind of characteristics as another, to a complete T. Even identical twins have differences if you pay attention.
And in a novel, it’s no different. In fact, it can be even worse for the writer. Because your reader has that book to read, over and over again. Or more likely, re-read that one paragraph, over and over again. If they start to notice cracks in your character, it’s likely because you applied some “universal truth” to all of them, and it’s made one of your characters seem unrealistic, or at least illogical. So don’t apply the same thing to all your characters.
Motivation can be tricky. You may think that your character is motivated to only one thing, or at least, common writing logic says your character should be motivated to one end. Is that true in real life?
I highly doubt it. I know some real life “characters” that seem to think that they can get high all the time and still effectively work. Sure, one is going to win out over the other, but that doesn’t mean that either motivation for them is any less real.
If you try to force your character to choose between motivations, it seems unnatural. Now, if your character gets to a point where they have to choose one over the other, that’s a ‘moment of truth’ situation. In order to get there, your character would have had to analyze pros and cons of the two motivations, and internally come to a conclusion. Then you can reveal that result in that moment.
But by and large, characters should have multiple motivations. You yourself are likely motivated by six or seven hobbies, and two are pursued heavier than the others, but that makes them no less valuable to you when each opportunity to pursue them affords itself.
And a third thing, never, ever, never, should you end a story with any character eating a slice of cake. That is ridiculously decadent and not the sort of thing you should be aiming for! Cake? Seriously? Why don’t you have Marie Antoinette make an appearance while you’re at it.
When it comes to writing, I tend to talk with two truths and a lie. I dare you to figure this one out.