Recently, I sat down to outline my second novel. After just a few sentences, I stopped. My villains are two brothers and a sister who are con artists. One of the brothers is the father of my main character and the plot is about how father and son face off. I knew where I wanted my plot to go but found I didn’t really understand my villains’ motivation. Until I did that, I couldn’t go anywhere with my outline.
Unless it’s a very minor character, I need to understand why my characters act the way they do before I can write about them with confidence. Saying the con artists do bad things because they are con artists isn’t enough. Real con artists have a motive: money, power, or some other kind of gain. I needed to figure out what was driving my villains and why.
To do that, I began outlining a scene which will never be in the book. This scene concerns the three siblings talking about a death in their family and how they can take advantage of it. Now I can shape their motives as they talk among themselves.
My novel is told from the point of view of the son, so the father’s, uncle’s and aunt’s motives will slowly be discovered through the story. But as the writer I have to have every character and his motives laid bare to me so I can figure out how to hammer together the plot.
Writing scenes which aren’t part of my novel is the best way I know to get a handle on a character that seems difficult. Not only can I uncover motives, but also perfect that character’s voice so she sounds unique.
For another opinion on the motives, read this article from Almost an Author.
What methods do you use to uncover your characters’ motives?