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JUSTIFYING WHAT YOUR CHARACTERS DO

January 25, 2023

            Since I’m not a big fan of characterization, one would think I don’t care about why characters do what they do. Far from it. I just don’t need to read on an on about it. Rather than call this motivation, which implies endless narrative, I’d rather approach it from the view of justifying why characters do what they do. I know this is semantics, but I’m just more comfortable with the term justify.

NOBODY DOES ANYTHING IN A VACUUM

            While it may occur in real life, in a story, you need to justify each word so as not to waste the readers time. This is a roundabout way of saying to cut the bloat, stuff that’s irrelevant to the story. At the same time when it comes to the storyline, everyone that does anything does it for a reason.

            Why?

            Having a random character do something with no explanation is distracting and irrelevant.

            When it comes to the story, everything a character does needs to have a reason why.

IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE LONG WINDED

            As those of you that have known me for a while have figured out, I’m no fan of literary prose. I’m a more to-the-point type of reader and writer.

            When it comes to a character doing something and why, it doesn’t need to be a book within a book. It can be as simple as a single sentence. Whatever the reason for the action, I go for moderation.

            In other words, get to the point.

SIMPLER THE BETTER

            Unless you’re doing a character study (which I abhor), you can keep character motivation simple.

            A character makes a noise every time they do something. Why do they make this noise? This is a perfect opportunity to add some character depth. In this case, I might go as much as a paragraph. Or, I might sprinkle a few sentences into the narrative to justify this quirk.

            While not every excruciating detail needs to be explained, if it’s something significant, yes, you need to give the why. You just don’t need to write three chapters on why the character makes this noise whenever they do something.

MOTIVATION

            Okay, I said that dirty word, which isn’t really bad in of itself. It’s what it implies.

            Motivation is chapter after chapter to explain why a character does something.

            Justification, at least to me, is a sentence, paragraph or two.

PEOPLE COMPLAINING ABOUT CHARACTER DEPTH

            I see it all the time in reviews of either books or movies that the characters had no depth. This is especially true in movies. If you’re like me, unless it completely makes no sense what the characters do and how they act, a few simple lines or actions or even memories (okay flashbacks) are fine if they’re simple. While I’m no fan of extended flashbacks, as in initial justification, if the flashback is short and not jarring, I’m fine with them.

            To some people, ninety percent of the book should be characterization. I don’t even expect to please everyone, especially these people. I’m more on the other end with a few simple words so the story gets to the point.

            That does not mean I love shallow characters. It’s just that I don’t need that much and if the characterization lingers too much, I lose interest and start skipping pages.

            That folks, is my point. While there should be a reason why every character does or acts the way they do, it can be justified in just a few lines or more, scattered throughout the narrative so that the story moves.

SUMMARY

            Every action in your book needs justification. However, that justification doesn’t need to be most of the book. This justification should be significant, make sense, and go with the story in the most efficient way possible.

            Happy writing!

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