Monday Writing Motivation: Writing your character all the way back in again

 In Monday Motivation, Richard Beynon's blog, Tips for Writers

One of the themes I keep returning to in these Monday meditations is that of motivation – motivating your character, that is.

Your character is, let us say, a mild-managed middle-aged man who in all his life has never transgressed his fervently held moral beliefs. But then he commits a murder… or adultery. This is totally out of character and to make it believable, you have to motivate it.

The question is: how do you do so? I’ve explored various answers to the question over the years. This week, watching a show called Kin on the BBC, I was reminded just how critical the issue can be, and just how seriously as writers we need to take it.

Here’s the scenario:

A man called Michael is released from prison after a lengthy stint. He is a member of the criminal, Dublin-based Kinsella family whose considerable income derives from trafficking in drugs. He is welcomed back with open arms. The family assumes that he’ll take up where he left off, as a working member of the gang.

But Michael is adamant: he will seek a regular job. Why? Well, he has an overwhelmingly important reason for going straight: he has a teenage daughter with whom he wishes to re-establish a relationship severed by his long stay in prison, and during which she was not permitted, by the court, to see him. Now there is a restraint order out against him: he may not see his daughter until he has a legitimate job and has demonstrated in every way that he has reformed.

But remember what Michael Corleone said in The Godfather III? “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”

That is Michael Kinsella’s dilemma. His family – and very specifically his brother Jimmy and his uncle Frank – want him to rejoin them in the business.

So that is the challenge facing Peter McKenna, the writer of the series. Having established that Michael has a very powerful reason to keep his hands clean, how does he persuade us, the viewers, that his family will believably succeed in “pulling him back in”?

Firstly, McKenna underscores just how deeply committed Michael is to keeping to the straight and narrow. He resists emotional appeals from his brother to join him. He turns down his father’s repeated requests to do the same. Instead, he takes a job working for his sister-in-law who runs a car dealership. Frank, instructs her to put Michael to work cleaning the cars. He calculates that his nephew – clearly bright, clearly ambitious – will not long be able to tolerate the menial and humiliating work.

But then Frank’s son, the mercurial and unpredictable and aptly nicknamed Viking, shoots a member of a much larger and more powerful drug cartel in the city. They strike back and accidently kill Jimmy’s teenage son – Michael’s nephew – Jamie.

Jimmy, devastated by the loss of his son, begs Michael to help him avenge the killing of his boy.

Is this enough to reel Michael back into the fold?

No. It needs one final motivating push. Michael bumps into his daughter at Jamie’s funeral. He begs her to have a cup of coffee with him, to give him a chance to repair the rupture between them. She tells him in no uncertain terms that she never wants to see him again.

And so the last good reason for Michael to resist the pressures applied by his family to return to his old criminal ways has evaporated.

He thought he was out – but now he’s all the way back in again.

Monday Writing Motivation: Writing your character all the way back in again

In every story, I would be so bold as to say, your protagonist is asked to do something they’ve never done before. They’re asked, in short, to behave “out of character”. It’s your job to convince your readers that this behaviour, however outrageous, is believable. It might take a lot of motivation to do so.

In fact, the job of motivating your hero’s choices is central to the creative writing project.

Just as it has been central to my writing project – 502 blogs and counting – to motivate you to keep on truckin’.

Happy writing,


P.S. Have my Monday missives been motivating? I’d love to hear!

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