As I talked about in the “love is earned” section, psychology is something you need to research if you want to depict a situation you haven’t lived through. Of course, I’m not talking about fantastical situations, but rather moments of trauma or mental illness that would impact the way a character responds to stimuli. As someone who finds psychology fascinating, I’ve done a ton of reading on it and I still take the time to research concepts and disorders I’m less familiar with. When writing about my character struggling with addiction, I read so many addiction-related articles and forums that the only ads that came up for weeks were for rehabs. If you haven’t lived through it, read some articles by people who have or better yet talk with them. Invite them to read your work so they can give you their perspective on the topics.
Motivation is another tricky wicket, closely related to psychology but not completely the same thing. When working with one particular reader, I found their main character exceptionally directionless. This led me to a sense of apathy and disinterest in the work. I later came to find that this was a characteristic of the main character that was being explored in that piece, but it wasn’t being counterbalanced by any other threads of tension, which made the work tedious to read.
So with the exception of cases like the above where the main character’s apathy is an actual part of the plot—and in those cases I strongly suggest having other strong threads of tension to tie the reader into the storyline—my experience is that having a vision of the character’s future is extremely important.
Towards the end of the Redeeming Grace Trilogy, Gracie’s world is spinning out of her control very rapidly. Even though things are happening fast and there’s a ton of tension, I still took the time to explain how Gracie saw a way forward after every setback. Time after time, she tries to establish a vision of what she wants to happen only to have her hopes dashed. This shattering of her hopes and dreams matters because it’s an added violence and one that happens to us when life takes a drastic and unexpected turn. Often during the COVID-19 pandemic, I found the inability to plan ahead to be one of the most stressful parts of the situation.
Giving our characters clear ideas about the direction they should go in helps establish their values and priorities, as well as helps drive the plot forward. Even if your character doesn’t end up where they wanted to be, establishing that vision is critical for our readers to understand their motivation.