Giving characters strong, real motivation

A good story is all about the believability. Readers can believe in dragons and magic or falling in love if the world and the characters an author builds feel real.

I have often stressed making your characters realistic by giving them flaws. But this also means that their actions and motivations need to be realistic.

Character motivations are born from the character’s past. What happened in his or her life to make them the way there are now? This is one reason creating a history for your characters is so important. But remember that good writing is about showing these reasons without pages and pages of back story. It will be shown by a few well-chosen details from the past that can explain why your character cannot call her father on Father’s day or enter a hospital room.

Plot is derived from characters and their motivations. Motivation leads to action, which leads to more action. And it leads to problems and conflict. Without characters wanting to do certain things and to have certain outcomes, there is no plot.

So having a character behave in character makes him real. They should make decisions based on their own desires and ideas and not what is convenient for the plot.

I picked this topic after reading a romance novel where I found one of the main character’s actions somewhat inconsistent with his goals. The main character – we will call him Justin since I don’t remember his name – runs the family company. Someone stole a new-product idea, and if he doesn’t get proof of this, his company will be ruined. I am fine with all that but on his plane ride to investigate the theft, Justin meets Molly, who is on her way home for her wedding. The problem is that she hasn’t told her overbearing mother that she dumped her cheating fiancé six weeks ago.

Justin helps Molly off the plane after she has a bad reaction from mixing Dramamine and alcohol. Her family assumes he is her fiancé. He realizes that Molly’s father works for the company who may have stolen his product idea and decides to play the fiancé to get more information.

Ok so it is far-fetched, but I can see the reason behind the portrayal. Molly goes along with it as she wants to stage a big breakup that will appease her mother who has spent thousands of dollars on the wedding. I am fine with the story up to this point. But Justin – whose company will go under next week – spends all his time helping Molly and forgetting about the company and its workers he needs to save.

Justin’s motivation didn’t ring real to me. It pulled me out of the story. If he was so gung-ho on saving his family’s business, why was he helping a woman he just met? Yes, she is beautiful and he felt “compelled” to help her because he is attracted to her, but this was a weak motivation. And just because it is a romance novel doesn’t mean the characters need to act in some sort of believable way.

This is what I am talking about when making sure you have a strong motivation for your characters. If a character values keeping his word, he may strive to do so no matter what even if means breaking some rules. He will act a certain way because of this belief. And it is the author’s task to make sure the actions and motivation fit this character and not just the story. If any of this is “off,” the reader will be distracted from the story, just as I was distracted from the story of James and Molly.

You, as the writer, need to know the characters and ensure they act as if they are living on the page and following their own story rather than being moved around like puppets.

I recently read some advice that said when working with characters, the stimulus that causes their action, the action and the motivation all must make sense. So if a man is poor and fighting for the survival of his family, it could follow that to ensure their survival he resorts to stealing.

breadWhat is the stimulus? Hunger & lack of money.
What is the response? Steal a loaf of bread.
What is the motivation? Love, survival of family.

What if the stimulus wasn’t that his kids were hungry, but that he woke up from a bad dream? Would it have made sense for him to steal food? No. It would not.

Or perhaps instead of stealing food for his starving family, he meets a woman and runs off with her. Would that work with his motivation of loving his family and wanting them to survive? No. It would not.

So when working with your characters, considering these three questions may help you ensure your character’s response and motivation to your plot are believable and not just there because you, the author, deemed that is the way your story needs to go. Remember stories are character driven.

Redecorating the kids’ rooms

In April, Lexie asked if she could redo her room into a “big girl” room. She wanted to remove the butterfly wallpaper border and take down some of the pictures on her walls.

That one question led us to the decision that both kids need to update their rooms. Jase still has the cute animal border he asked for when he was four. He still loves the border but I know soon he will consider it to “babyish.”

So we (and by we I basically mean I) spent June cleaning out and organizing the kids’ rooms. They had gotten in the habit of just shoving things in the closet (heck you couldn’t even get to Jase’s closet) or under the bed. There were tons of little toys everywhere. But I put everything in bins and soon you could see the carpet in the corners of the rooms.

We let each child decide what color to paint their rooms and then decided to let them buy a few new room decorations.


Room 2Lexie of course wanted to paint her room pink. And not just any pink but bright pink. We nixed that idea but offered her some choices of pinks – even the option of having one wall in a dark or bright pink. She ended up choosing to have her room with light pink on the top half of the walls and a darker pink on the bottom half (at about chair rail height). And of course she wanted sparkles.

Room 3So we picked Ballerina Tutu for the bottom half and Blush Rush (both from Behr) for the top. And to get the sparkles she wanted I used Valspar’s silver paint crystals. I put two packages in each color so for about $32 she has wonderful sparkly paint.

So far the only room decorations we have added is an Elsa wall mural and Elsa light switch cover. Lexie also changed her flower lamp shade for a pink one with crystals hanging from the shade. She also asked to remove the stuffed animal chains and to have a stuffed animal hammock like Jase had in his room.

She also rearranged her furniture and now her room looks bigger than before. Of course I think it helps that it is cleaner than before too.


jacen 1Jase was more reluctant to change his room. He saw nothing wrong with it the way it was. But the paint had been in the room for 12 years and I felt it could do with a new coat of paint. He ended up choosing a deeper blue and then after seeing how dark Lexie’s pink turned out, he went down a shade to a slightly lighter shade of blue. We ended up with Yacht Blue from Behr.

jacen 3His biggest addition will be a Star Wars wall mural. I offered him several to choose from and was surprised that he went for Darth Vader when he typically has been more interested in Clone Troopers. Unfortunately, we can’t put it up until the paint has been on his wall for 30 days. It will go on the same wall as his bed (in the area above the AT-AT in the photo.)

We tried moving some furniture in his room to give him more space but he has more big stuff and it didn’t really work out as well as it did in Lexie’s room. I think the key in both rooms was moving their Lego tables from the center of the room and putting them against a wall.

Well both kids are now happy. I told them we are not redecorating their rooms for at least 3 more years so they had better enjoy them!

Today’s Featured Author – Clive Richardson

Today, please welcome author Clive Richardson. His book, Soul Citizen – Tales & Travels from the Dawn of the Soul Era to the Internet Age, was released earlier this year.


Tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Clive Richardson. I’m not sure how my musical tastes originated, as my father liked big-band music and my mother liked shows and musicals – in fact I have an early memory of being taken to see the original London stage production of ‘My Fair Lady’ starring Rex Harrison! I heard Lonnie Donegan records and became a skiffle fan, then in the early 1960s, when I started work at the age of 16, I was captivated by Motown music and found soul music. The rest is history – and is related in detail in my book!

Where were you born and where do you call home?

I was born in Bromley, then in the UK county of Kent and now part of South East London, on January 14, 1946. My family home was in the nearby village of Chislehurst, where I lived for the first 30 years of my life before buying my first property, a one-bedroom flat/apartment, moving to nearby Grove Park for 20 years. Then I met and married my wife Barbara in 1998, bought a small house, then moved a decade later to my present home in Mottingham, South East London, just a couple of miles from my birthplace.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

I began writing in 1964, in the era of ‘fan clubs’ for singers and groups, when I formed a fan club for US soul singer Don Covay following his hit records ‘Mercy Mercy’ and ‘See Saw’. I wrote and published a small fan club magazine, about eight pages, mainly record reviews and a small history of Don’s career, then hooked-up with a group of other guys who also published small magazines, and we got together to write and self-publish ‘Soul Music’ magazine in 1966. We changed the title to ‘Shout’ after some confusion about styles of ‘soul’ music, and I continued as contributing editor/publisher until 1974, when I moved on to freelancing with other magazines.

Please tell us about your current release.

My book is called Soul Citizen – Tales & Travels from the Dawn of the Soul Era to the Internet Age, and is available both from Amazon CreateSpace and from, also via Amazon. It is my ‘music autobiography’, relating my experiences in ‘discovering’ Rhythm & Blues and soul music as a teenager in London in the 1960s. There are sections and chapters on collecting vinyl records, on seeing live music at concerts and clubs, and meeting and interviewing artists, on travels to the USA, New York and New Orleans, on UK music radio, my broadcasting experiences on the BBC, with pirate radio stations in the 1980s and with local and specialist stations from the 1990s to present, and on the evolution and progression of the soul music scene in the UK through the decades.

What inspired you to write this book?

A friend published a book collating his artist interviews as published in various magazines, which encouraged me towards s similar project, but extended from just previously-published material to memoirs of my decades of involvement with and in the music industry as a fan, as a radio broadcaster, as a journalist and as a record label manager for reissue projects.

How did you come up with the title?

I was working on a series of reissue CDs covering vintage soul music across various cities in the USA – the Soul City series on Fantastic Voyage Records, featuring New York, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and New Orleans – so it was a natural progression to think of myself as a ‘Soul Citizen’!

What kind of research did you do for this book?

The research was mainly from my fairly good memory, assisted by 50 years of magazine and book files along with a vinyl record collection covering a similar period. LP record sleeves seem to carry more memories then do CD inlays and booklets! Online research was also useful too!

Do you have an all time favorite book?

I was an avid reader of science fiction in the 1960s, including Robert Heinlein ‘Stranger In a Strange Land’ and Arthur Clarke ‘ A Fall of Moondust’, then Stephen King, and it would be hard to choose between ‘Carrie’ and ‘The Shining’!

What book are you reading right now?

Most recent reads have been the Bobby Bland biography ‘The Soul Of a Man’ and the Huey ‘Piano’ Smith biography ‘Rocking Pneumonia Blues’, which takes me back to my several trips to Jazzfest in New Orleans during the 1980s.

Tell us a random fact about you that we never would have guessed.

Apart from watching football/soccer as a lifelong fan of Charlton Athletic in south east London, I am also a keen tennis player, Chairman of my local club, and still involved in playing competitive league matches two or three times a week throughout the year!

Book Blurb

soulcitizenThe autobiography of a soul music fan from his formative years in the early 1960s, buying records and going to gigs, through decades of journalistic experience editing Shout! fanzine, writing for soul papers and album liner notes, to thirty years as a radio broadcaster. Adventure journeys to New York and New Orleans also feature, along with experiences as a re-issue record label manager, and comments on the development of the Soul/R&B music world. 222 pages, illustrated, paperback.

About the Author

CliveClive Richardson grew up in London at the birth of the Soul Era with Motown and Stax creating musical impact on the youth of the day. He formed a fan club for soul singer Don Covay, then expanded his journalistic career as editor of Shout fanzine and contributor to Black Echoes newspaper. He wrote liner notes for numerous albums, subsequently becoming label-manager of Shout! Records (UK), producing reissue soul and R&B CDs. Clive is also a consultant for Fantastic Voyage records, originating and producing vintage soul reissues. He is also veteran of a thirty-year career in radio, broadcasting on JFM, RTM and Solar Radio, now with a reguler weekly show on Solar Radio. Married to Barbara since 1998, Clive lives in South East London, is a keen club tennis player and football fan, a lifelong supporter of Charlton Athletic.

You can purchase Soul Citizen on Amazon in paperback or as an e-book and at Barnes & Noble in paperback.

Buying ads to sell your book

Publishing a book and then hoping someone will stumble upon it and buy it will result in very few sales. To be successful you will need to market your book. This is an ongoing process that usually begins before you publish.

One option for marketing is to buy advertisements. There are a variety of places where you can advertise – Amazon, Goodreads, Facebooks, Book/Reader websites such as BookBub, Kindle News Daily and Ereader News Daily (and many more).

Some websites offer you a banner ad at the top of their website or perhaps a listing on their “special” or “deal section.” And some even will include your information in their e-mail newsletter. Other sites will offer advertising based on a Cost-per-Click program. This is where you have an advertisement (sometimes just copy and sometimes with an image) and you only pay for the people who click on the link in your ad.

In April, I chose to pay for adverting to promote my last KDP Select free promo for The Heir to Alexandra. I spent $15 ($5 a day) to appear on Digital Book Today’s website and $15 to appear in E-Reader News Today’s e-mail newsletter and on their website for one day. I feel that the E-Reader News ad, in particular, was especially beneficial and saw the most downloads on the day of my ad. (See all my results here.)

Of course in my instance, I was giving away a book. Advertising for a book in which someone has to part with their hard-earned dollars is quite different. Many people will download a free book if it only slightly interests them. They will not do the same when they must pay for the book. In that case, your ad must hook the reader into purchasing your book.

If you are going to purchase an ad on any of website, I would suggest you research whether this will help you reach your target market of readers. It doesn’t help to just advertise your books to readers. You need to get it in front of those that actually might read your book.

Some websites such as BookBub send out emails to those people who indicated they like a certain genre. So if you write fantasy, your ad will only go to Fantasy readers. (Click here for a review of advertising with BookBub.)

But let’s take a moment and talk about the other method of advertising – Cost-per-Click programs (CPC). Sites such as Goodreads, Facebook, Amazon, and Google all offer this type of program.

The good thing about most CPC programs is generally it is easy to target readers of your book genre. You can even narrow it by location, age, or gender. This means your ad reaches the people most likely to buy your book.

With CPC, you only pay for the ads where someone clicks on your link. Typically, you set a budget of how much you are willing to spend either per day or for the length of your campaign. Most of the places also let you decide how much you will pay per click but be warned in most cases the lower the amount you “bid” the less your ad will be displayed.

And in some cases like Goodreads, they determine how often your ad is shown based on the initial response to your ad. So if no one clicks on it, you get charged nothing but Goodreads won’t show your ad as much. The ads with more clicks in the first few hundred impressions are shown more frequently. Each ad gets a fresh start the next day.

One indie author reported her book was listed at $2.99. When she tried a bid of 10 cents per click, she didn’t get many responses and moved up to 50 cents a click which increased her click-through rate. But to break even on the cost of her advertisement, at least one person out of every four would have to buy her book. In other words, if she didn’t hook a fourth of the readers, she wouldn’t break even and certainly wouldn’t be making money from her advertising effort.

On Facebook, you can run campaigns to promote your page or to sell your book. Here is a link to a report about getting likes (and how it isn’t worth it).

You can, however, run ads to sell your book but many authors have tried this and even when trying to give a book away for free reported that advertising on Facebook didn’t do well.

Just as a note, on July 8, Facebook announced that they updated their cost per click to only include clicks to websites and apps and not include likes, shares or comments.

Amazon offers their Kindle Direct Publishing ads that will promote your book across Amazon and on Kindle E-readers. Campaigns start as low as $100 and are on the CPC plan. Your ads can appear on product pages as well as on the Kindle screen saver or as a banner on the Kindle home screen.

You can also do CPC ads on search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo. If you hadn’t noticed, whenever you perform a search, the top results are sometimes from paid advertisers. For tips to writing a Google Ad, click here.

google ads

Now I don’t know if any of these CPC ads help sell books or not. But if nothing else you may get some exposure. Remember that often people have to see something multiple times before they take the time to look into it and in the case of looking at books, hopefully make a purchase.

For another author’s opinion on whether pay per click ads work to sell books, click here.