Anita Stansfield's take on Character Motivation

Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Anita Stansfield spoke at the American Fork Arts Council WC (that's a mouthful. We'll call it the AFAC from now on--can you hear the Aflac duck's lawyers calling me?). If you've never heard of Anita, she writes LDS/Christian books. She's sold over 40 of them.

Anita went into detail about character motivation. Specifically, outlining the reasoning behind character choices. The example she gave: If your list character's favorite food as pizza in your character outline, you also need to know why it's pizza. Is it just the flavor, or is it because the character's parents couldn't afford it and he only got pizza on his birthday?

Other questions to answer about your character:
-who raised them
-what were their circumstances (poor, abused, popular)
-significant events.

Her biggest tip was to touch on human emotion. Use your characters flaws and shortcomings to add depth and personality to the story.

So my question to you: What kind of character outlining do you do? How in depth is it? Do you think it's vital?

7 comments:

  1. Becky said...:

    I can tell from her books that Stansfield does this so well. I enjoy her characters more as a result.

  1. My "Character-outlining" is mostly emotional.

    That is, I'll hear a song that highlights something I 'didn't know I knew' about a character, and that creates an emotional memory of sorts.

    I have playlists for each of my major characters on YouTube. It's pretty cool-- when I want to get in someone's head I play that list.

  1. Becky: Hearing her speak about it only reinforces how important it is to her. She's passionate about it.

    Amy: I love your name! Such an awesome author name. Interesting about the songs. You must be very musical. I couldn't ever do that. I can't sing, read music, lead music, play any instruments . . . You get the idea. ;)

  1. I'll concede that being musical predisposes me to think this way, but I also believe that anyone can pull a massive amount of intimacy with a character from a song.

    A pair of examples (if you can separate the sound from the videos-- I truly don't pick these for the visuals):

    Runa (Main Character's foil): To the Moon and Back, Not ready to Make Nice, and Stand in the Rain.

    Kennett (MC's husband): Eye of the Tiger, Don't Let Go, and When I'm gone.

  1. This is a great post. I go into great detail with my character motivation planning. Well, I did for my first novel. Since I wrote my second novel for NaNo, and wasn't planning on doing it, I didn't do as much... and it's showing. So now I have to step back and do the work I should have done in the first place.

    I do this planning with the Snowflake Method, which helps you go into a lot of detail.

  1. I think I outline too much sometimes, but in the end it's worth it!

  1. In my first books, I don't think I did enough character outlines. I'm really concentrating on improving that. I think it makes your characters more consistant.

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