Writing Can Be Murder

July 22, 2010

Character motivation and stray dogs…what they have in common

Filed under: Uncategorized — love2wryte @ 6:50 pm

I’m extraordinarily lucky. My writing office has two windows. I spend an inordinate amount of time looking out them as I puzzle through various writing-related dilemmas.

I was doing just that the other day when a brown flash zipped through my field of vision. For a moment, I thought it was the local fox that I spot with some regularity, but it was too big for that. I considered the possibility that maybe it had been a young deer, it was the right color for that.

And then I forgot about it as I returned my attention to my writing-issue-du-jour…which was basically, “Why the hell is this character doing this?”

A couple minutes later I heard a squeal of brakes, which made me look out the window again.

That’s when I spotted him. A stray dog running loose.

I have a thing about stray dogs…specifically, an almost compulsive need to catch them. I jumped up, grabbed a handful of dog biscuits, and ran outside. Long story short, I caught the dog and ten minutes later his owner, who’d been driving around searching for him, pulled up.

So why do I have this need to catch stray dogs? The easy answer would be I’m a dog lover, but since I’d been in the middle of examining the depths of my character’s motivations, I thought about my own.

I associate a dog running loose with death.

When I was five my dog Prince got loose and ran out into the street, where he was promptly run over by our next door neighbor. I can still hear the squeal of brakes, the sickening thud, and Prince’s yelp of pain. Since I was such a young kid, this was my first experience with death and it affected me deeply. To this day, the sight of a dog running loose sends me into a full-blown panic, which is why I’m always running about trying to catch them.

Understanding my own motivation for doing something, helped me to figure out that of my character…(hers was not so nearly dramatic).

As a writer, how do you figure out what’s motivating your characters?

As a reader, do you need to “understand” why a character behaves a certain way or are you willing to just go along for the ride?



  1. As a reader, I like it when there’s at least a hint or two about what makes a character tick. I don’t need a lot of backstory, but a little something is nice.

    Comment by Jenny — July 23, 2010 @ 11:51 am | Reply

  2. I’m with you Jenny. I like a hint, but I get bored by a ton.

    Comment by love2wryte — July 23, 2010 @ 5:10 pm | Reply

  3. I like just enough of a clue that I can puzzle over it. To me a book is a success if I’m thinking about the chracters when I’m not reading, so if I have to ask myself why I think a character does something, to me the author has done a good job because I care enough to wonder about this fictional person.

    Comment by Jennifer Colgan — July 23, 2010 @ 5:37 pm | Reply

  4. Jennifer — that’s an excellent point!

    Comment by love2wryte — July 24, 2010 @ 7:20 am | Reply

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