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The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing, 3rd Edition by Writer's Digest Writer's Digest Editors

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Chapter Fifteen

Complicating Your Characters

Creating Complex Motivations and Backstories

Joseph Bates

You might be afraid that simple motivations lead to simplistic characters—that once you’ve discovered what your character really wants is, say, a big piece of cheesecake, all he has to do is run through your novel screaming, “I want cheesecake!” (Detective One: “This is a grisly crime scene, Fred. One of the worst. I’m afraid we’ve got a serial killer on our hands here.” Detective Two: “But what about cheesecake?!”)

That’s not the case, of course. Complex characters can, do, and should emerge from the simplest motivations, for two main reasons:

  1. Guided by simple motivations, our actions in pursuit of those motivations are complex and occasionally ...

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