|Photo credit: Lord Mariser on Flickr|
What I mean to say is that every action any character in your novel takes must have a motivation (and P.S: speaking is an action).
Think about your everyday life for a moment—from waking up in the morning to climbing into bed at the end of the day—and I think you'll find that there is very little (if anything at all) that you do without any motivation or reasoning at all. Even something as simple as eating lunch (motivation: you were hungry) or playing video games (motivation: you were bored, or didn't want to do something else, or really just wanted to reach that achievement, etc.) has some form of reasoning behind it.
What's my point? We don't do anything without motivation and neither should our characters.
This tends to be an obstacle when certain plot points need to be met, so our characters must do stupid or evil things in order to accomplish our goals for the manuscript. Without enough planning, when looking back at the WIP, writers often stumble across scenes where characters do something without a clearly defined motivation.
This happens most often with antagonists. In most novels, the antagonist must do some pretty terrible things to the main character in order for the plot to progress—whether it's stealing his lover or trying to kill him or embarrassing him in school (or at work)—antagonists must set our characters back and create conflict.
But antagonists are characters too, and they need to be well developed with believable motivations or their actions will fall flat.
Because I love the Harry Potter series and one of the best ways to learn how to improve your writing is by taking a look at the expertise of the greats, I'm going to use the most evil and yet still believable bad guy I have yet encountered in a book.
That's right: I'm talking about Voldemort.
As most of you know (regardless of whether or not you've read the series), Voldemort does many a terrible thing to our main character Harry. Without spoiling anything for those of you few readers who have yet to read the series, Voldemort kills Harry's parents when he's a baby, tries to kill him a dozen or so times throughout his lifetime, frees the most evil of wizards from Azkaban (wizard prison), murders many of Harry's friends and loved ones as well as tortures and kills others, goes through a very painful process of fragmenting his soul and murders his loyal followers when their usefulness expires.
And yet, Voldemort doesn't do things only because he's evil—he has a goal, a motivation: to be the greatest wizard who ever lived—greater even than the famous Albus Dumbledore. Above all else, he wants power and immortality.
Unfortunately for Voldemort, there's this pesky orphaned teenager who keeps getting in his way.
Despite all the evil, horrendous things Voldemort does, never once did J.K. Rowling fall into the trap of making him do things just to be evil—everything he did led back to his number one goal, every horrible action he took had a motivation.
Can you say the same for your characters?
Take a look at your WIP. Can you justify your characters' actions with motivations--or are they simply acting for the sake of the plot?