Have you ever wondered what kids are thinking? Why they do what they do? I have because I’m blessed with many nieces and nephews who give me grins and giggles. Take my two-year-old nephew, Ethan, for example. From the time he was able to hold on to a quarter, my sister and brother-in-law taught Ethan the importance of giving to God. Every Sunday, Ethan would clutch his quarter and wait for the collection plate to be passed. One Sunday morning, he saw the men coming down the aisle with the collection plates. He jumped out of Paw-Paw’s lap and ran toward the ushers. The closest man bent down to allow Ethan to drop his money into the plate. He turned to find his grandfather coming to get him. Beaming, the little cherub raised his arms to be picked up. Aha. I knew what was going on in Ethan’s mind. God loves a cheerful giver.
I teach the little ones in Sunday School. My kids are between four months and two years in age. (Yes, you can teach these children.) One of our main themes is God loves us and gives us good things. Ethan was one of my regular students. One Sunday morning, the collection plate came to Ethan. Not only did he put his money in the plate, he also tossed in his ratty rubber alligator. A flush crept up Dean’s neck as he grabbed the toy. I leaned forward, “How sweet,” I whispered, “Ethan gave God something he loves.”
Of course I can’t read minds, but the explanations were obvious to me. The reality is Ethan had a motive, a reason for his actions. And so must our characters have motives for the things they do. In my current novel HOW DO YOU LIKE ME NOW, Kate Walker returns to her home town in response to a phone call from the town doctor. Her grandmother had a heart attack and is not expected to live. At this point, her sole motivation is to see her grandmother and take care of her. But things change. After Miss Lucille’s death, past events and current events combine creating a new purpose for Kate. She wants justice for herself, her grandmother, and her friend Travis.
The antagonist, King Phillips, is a bully, power hungry, and self-important. He has one ambition; to own the Walker family property. He threatened and attempted to intimidate Miss Lucille into selling and now he’s after Kate. His motive seems straightforward, but is it? Is there some other reason King demands Kate sell out to him?
The characters’ motives create conflict. In this case King uses every means, every threat to obtain the land. Kate is equally determined to honor her grandmother’s request not to sell out to Phillips. Their battle comes to a head with surprising revelations. Throughout the story, their actions must be in keeping with the motives. For example, if Kate says she forgives King, it would not be in keeping with her desire for justice. Nor would King be in character if he took pity on Miss Lucille’s granddaughter. They must be consistent as they pursue their goals.
In order to keep the characters’ actions in keeping with their motives, you have to know who they are. The past, present, and future aspirations should be part of the character sketches you create. I’m not one for long, detailed character sketches, but I believe in a bit of back story. You need to know when the character was born, age at the time of major events in their life, socio-economic status, and where you plan to take him. You also need to hint of the setting. Does he live in a small town or a major city? Can you describe where he lives? What does he do for a living? While I might not write it all down, the information is in my head. By knowing your characters and their desires and motivation, you can lead them from hook to resolution and take your readers along for the ride.