Motivation (Characters’) and Embarrassment (Mine)

Chuck Wendig wrote a blog post this week that embarrassed the hell out of me.

The post was entitled “Ten Thoughts on Story,” and one of his ten big thoughts was “Motive is everything.”

Which, sure. Yes. Properly motivated characters are important. I know. Of course.

I started breezing past, but then these sentences caught my attention:

If you [the writer] don’t understand why a character does something, you don’t understand the character.

The character doesn’t have to understand it. But you damn sure better.

And then I put a bag over my head to hide my shame.


Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

I’ve been making this mistake for years. Forcing Character A and Character B into a room so they can both have a seat and awkwardly explain their motives to each other. Or sending Character C to the beach, where she can stroll and fully contemplate the motives leading to her next move.

But dammit, Chuck’s right.

Characters don’t need to understand their own motives. Their writer does. Eventually, their readers do. But the characters themselves don’t.

Hell, I don’t understand my own motives.

And here’s the embarrassing thing. I can write and write and write. Read and read and read. But I’ll still totally fail to grasp some essential truths of storytelling.

Though I guess that’s also the awesome thing. The thing that keeps me writing and reading.

At least I’ll never make this mistake again. (I hope.)

I wonder what the next one will be.

About Dante Rasera

Originally from Upstate New York, I currently live in Charlottesville, Virginia, where I'm an MBA student at the Darden School of Business. This summer, I'm interning at Red Hat, the open source technology leader. Prior to business school, I studied creative writing at Hamilton College and received the Thomas E. Meehan Prize in Creative Writing.
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