This story, like all good stories, involves Lisa Frank. It also involves math (something that most good stories don’t include).
As a child (well, this is still true if I am honest), I was terrible at math. Epically bad. It is really embarrassing if I go into too much detail about it, so I won’t. Just trust me that math and I weren’t exactly best friends. Actually, we were sworn enemies. Like Lex Luther and Superman. Or Taylor Swift and Kanye West.
Now there was one thing that I loved as much as I hated math: Lisa Frank. For those unfamiliar with Lisa Frank, she was a rainbow-colored phenomena that was unique to young girls that grew up in the 1980s and 1990s. Have you seen a purple panda clutching a paintbrush? If the answer is yes, then you have seen Lisa Frank.
I was obsessed with Lisa Frank. I wanted all the swag. Whether it was the notebook with the dog inexplicably marrying the cat on the cover or the smiley face eraser, I needed it. We were like Superman and Lois Lane or Taylor Swift and Selena Gomez. We belonged together.
My mother, the wise woman that she is, decided to capitalize on this. We were currently learning addition and subtraction in my class, and it was a struggle. As in, it was like Frodo was climbing Mount Doom to destroy the Ring sort of struggle.
My mom setup a “little shop” with Lisa Frank items (i.e. Golden Retriever purple pencils) that I need to “buy” with “money” (I believe my mom just drew fake currency). The prices were really odd, such as $3.14, so I would really have to use math.
You know what? It worked! I just needed the right motivation to work through my math challenges. Give me a notebook with purple penguins hugging each other, and I suddenly understood addition and subtraction.
Just as tapping into motivation is the key to raising a child, motivation is necessary for developing interesting characters.
Think about it: motivation is what makes people unique and is the source of conflict.
Let us use The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald as an example. Jay Gatsby could easily have been a cliche. If you take away his major motivation, he could have been just another guy who throws a bunch of parties to be popular or admired. What is that motivation? He is deeply in love with Daisy and trying to capture her attention. Suddenly, he goes from an annoying, superficial party animal to a poignant man who is (somewhat sketchily) trying to capture an old flame’s attention and relive a beloved part of his past.
Similarly, Frodo could just have been your typical “good guy.” He could have just wanted to destroy the Ring because it was the right thing to do. While I am sure that played a factor, the major motivation was his love for his home, the Shire. He wanted to protect his home and loved ones. That is more interesting and human than some bland hero doing brave deeds for a vague abstraction.
Okay, I think you get the point.
Your assignment, if you choose to accept it, is to spend some time developing your characters’ motivations (yes, multiple motivations). How do you do do this? You ask your character.
Okay, that is not as creepy and weird as it sounds.
You set a time for a half hour (or whatever length of time you think is appropriate) and, from your character’s perspective, free-write about what you want. Do this for all your characters, even the minor ones. Many authors said they were surprised to find a minor character became a major character. Even if that does not happen, your story will be richer for having complex minor characters.
What are your characters’ motivations? Tell me in the comments below!