The part of this that stuck with me is that the person explaining the practice of mindfulness said, “Don’t focus on the past or the future – just the present.” And somehow this explanation made me consider all the worries I have about the things that have happened to me in the past and the things I’m worried that could happen to me, and as I tried to focus solely on the present – of myself sitting in a room and taking each breath in and out – I failed….. Instead, I started thinking about the characters in the book I’m currently editing.
What is motivating our characters? This is a basic character development question and an important one, but the question suddenly became more complex and three dimensional as I considered it with all of eternity set before me. Don’t just know what is currently motivating your characters – consider the past, present, and future.
What have been past goals or motivations that your characters had or experienced? How did their success/failure shape their current mindset? Are they yet to experience failure and brimming with brazen, impossible plans? Are they cautious and realistic?
But it’s more than this – what happened in their past that is motivating their current actions? This can be as simple as the backstory that has created their personality/mannerisms/etc, but it can also clarify why they currently have the goals they do. How are past and current goals changing and juxtaposed against each other? How does your character deal with the times that they conflict – which goal do they choose (or which one becomes more important) and why? Also, consider whether the goals they currently have are motivated by their current situation, or by their worries about possible future ones. We cannot just imagine our characters as experiencing one seen at a time, but as an active part of the larger flow of events and relationships that take place before, during, and after the story stops being told on paper.
These are all things that real people are constantly, subconsciously, dealing with. I am becoming increasingly convinced that it is these things that we think about but don’t always notice that make us complex and interesting and human and real – and that we should endeavor to give our characters these multifaceted qualities.