How To: Character Drivers

As January brings us into a new year and a new decade, I thought it would be nice to chance up some of my blog pieces. Over the years I’ve been writing, I’ve collected various bits of information that are squirrelled away in notebooks and in my mind that might come in handy to other writers out there. So, my “How To” series is born.

Like any creative advice, there is never a one-stop-shop for how to write. So feel free to use these series as more of a springboard for your own ideas, as opposed to a prescriptive method of writing.

So, onwards to my first blog – How to create character drivers.

What is a Character Driver?

To start with, we need to work out what is a character driver. For me, this is the core of a character’s identity, their very reason for being. It’s the motivation that drives them along their plots, and gives a realistic reason for why they do or react the way they do.

For this blog, let’s make up a character. As I write in fantasy, I’m going to be creating them for a fantasy based setting.

So first – a name. Let’s call this character Yuyel.

So, who is Yuyel? What’s she like? Is she tall, short, strong or weak? Does she have blonde hair? Brown hair?

In fact, when starting with a character, what they look like doesn’t matter. Not yet at least.

First, we need to work out what this character is doing in our story. For this scenario, I’m going to make Yuyel the heroine, out to save her village from the evil force in the mountains.

And now, we get to the character driver – what is causing Yuyel to save her village?

Is it pride? (I have to save my village because that is what is expected of me)

Is it vanity? (I want to be seen as the bravest in the village)

Is it shame? (I could not save the village last time, I will not fail again)

Is it love? (I love my family and will protect them no matter what).

So now we have some ideas of what might drive Yuyel to save her village. Next question is going to be which one do we pick?

Which character driver to choose?

What driver you pick mostly depends around what story you want to tell, and what journey you want to take the character on. Is it one of self growth? (perhaps from a “I want to be seen as the bravest in the village” to a mindset of “I am worthy of my achievements”). Is it one of heroism? (“I will not fail my village again” to “I will save the day”).

Even if you don’t know what your character’s drivers are, going through the process of trying to identify them can help build your world & character backstory – one of the things I find most useful from this exercise!

Using a character driver to help build your world.

The reason why a character does something is not in isolation. There would be environmental reasons why you character has ended up the way they ended up. Maybe they deserted an army, which suggests that something they were doing in the army didn’t agree with them. Or perhaps their commander’s views clashed with your characters? Whatever the reason, now you can delve out into the wider world – why is there an army in the first place? Is there an evil in the world that requires an army? Who are they fighting for? How big is it?

All questions that help you flesh out a universe. All coming from asking why does a character do what they do.

Have a go yourself!

I hope this gives you some ideas as to character drivers. There are many articles out there, and writing books too, which discuss character drivers and how they can help you flesh out your writing. One I’ve found particularly helpful is The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass. It’s a really interesting look as to how emotions shape a character, and how by showing certain emotions at different times, you can convey different emotional connections to the reader.

Enjoy this blog piece? Check out some of my others below!

Image Credit: Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

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