My main character was wrong.
I’ve not gone into any details about my story for this year’s NaNoWriMo, except for my last post, about a mistake I nearly made. However, I’ve been doing a lot of work around characterisations in my preparations. So here it is, here are some details, and how it’s shown me some basic ideas I had about this story are wrong.
So this is meant to be a space adventure story. My main character is a thief who gets pulled into some pretty world-changing events, while also being chased by the villain of the piece.
Now I had assumed that duelling motivations of vengeance would be the central conflict to the story. My main character wanted revenge on the villain, and thus joined a crew and a mission that would bring him towards the villain. The villain of the piece meanwhile intends to punish the main character by re-imprisoning him, though their motive would change later on when the MacGuffin in the story puts her interests in danger.
It seems a perfectly workable idea. However, it just doesn’t fit with the character work I’ve done for my main character. The main character looks like an average person. He’s not known for being heroic, he’s a thief, albeit high-end thief that works mostly against corporations. There is a commitment to avoiding violence, that seems to come from a personal code, but it looks a lot like cowardice from some angles.
His personality is of a charming man, with a good sense of humour, approachable in society, though focused when on the job, he moves on from trouble he doesn’t chase it. His goals work-wise are to get and get out with the minimum fuss.
He isn’t the man that proclaims a blood oath and charges off to get vengeance.
So how would this character fit into a tale of revenge? They wouldn’t.
Motivations are important. If you ever want the reader to believe your characters have agency, have free will, their decisions in the story have to flow through their motivations. A miser doesn’t just give things, not unless they’ve been through a process the reader has seen and appreciates, (thinking of Scrooge there). A warrior who on multiple occasions, has fought off ten people at a time doesn’t surrender to four because she is outnumbered.
Doing things against your character’s motivations just to fit the plot will prevent readers from believing in your characters, believing in the stakes. You’ll break the suspension of disbelief, and leave your reader feeling like any investment in the role is wasted.
If your character is a hardass, make them a hardass.
Obviously, the story can weigh on the character’s decision; a hardass might stay their hand to protect someone they love. Your miser might give anything to reclaim something he secretly values even more than money. If you’ve established their motivations, and how they end up making a different decision that’s fine.
I can’t see a way to make this character I’ve created go on the blood fuelled vengeance. Short of murdering someone close to him, but he doesn’t have anyone close to him.
We’re still at the planning stages though; I’ve not written to, or committed to anything yet. I just needed to find the right motivation to get the character into the plot. It turns out, it was pretty simple, a character like that wants freedom, and to stay free. They might be willing to commit to this crazy space adventure if the reward at the end was freedom, and maybe riches.
All of this is important, I want the character to be able to speak naturally, I want a consistent tone. I want the main character to be quippy, brave in situations he is comfortable, but a little cowardly in things out of his element, say combat or leadership. This isn’t his day to day, yet ultimately he’s the one leading us through this plot, and we want to see him overcome his limitations naturally.
I must say, I’m really enjoying plotting this year. I genuinely think it’s going to lead to a great story while I’m having these conversations with myself.