Character Motivation


Harry Potter 2011 Blu Ray Years 1-8 Box Set Cover

From time to time, I will go back to an old movie that I haven’t seen in a while to watch it.  Considering the size of our collection, whatever mood I’m in can usually be accommodated.  Recently that was Harry Potter, starting at the beginning and going through the whole series.  I’ve made it to the Goblet of Fire, movie wise, so far.  My husband enjoys the movies as much as I do, but he only shows up at certain points though usually because he’s in the middle of some other project.

Last week, he happened to appear during the end of the movie when poor Cedric is killed.  My husband showed as Cedric was telling Harry to take the Goblet at which point Harry tells him they should both take it.  Sounds noble, fair, just… etc.  Both take it and whoosh, one graveyard.  Hubby remarks as we get to the point where Cedric gets Avada Kedavra – ed (yep, made that up) it would have been better if Cedric had stayed in the maze.

I should back up a moment to point out that I also told him the difference between book and movie in relation to the seriousness of the maze that was never fully explained in the movies due to a lack of time before this conversation.

Okay, fast forward back to the situation…

On the heels of his comment I began to say it was necessary for Cedric to go with him, then stopped when I realized I was about to go into the mind of the writer.  My husband isn’t a writer, he enjoys reading and he enjoys my stories, but a writer he is not.  Frankly he doesn’t care about story devices, character interactions or anything like that on a stylistic craft level.  However, he does support me in my passion, but I try not to overburden him.  So I stopped…

Then I couldn’t help myself, and I told him.  Cedric had to go to the maze, had to be killed by Voldemort, to push Harry over the edge.  He served as Harry’s motivator.  The catalyst to get Harry to fight the snake-human bastard who is the ultimate bully of all time.

Lord Voldemort

*sidenote – I wonder how the actor who played Voldemort felt when he learned his character had to bully poor 14-year-old Harry????

I’m not saying Harry didn’t have a lot of motivation behind going after the bastard, because he did.  Mum and Dad for start, the terror of his friends and family at Hogwarts, the wizard community at large.  All of those things were motivators, don’t get me wrong, and they were HUGE in relation to that, but Cedric was more intimate.  He was, in my mind anyway, the first person that Harry connected with that was stolen from him.  Mum and Dad were only memories, a wish he would cast if he could.  His friends were in danger, sure, but they were always by him to help.  The community was too big and Dumbledore was more Grandpa than anything else.  But Cedric was and always will be Harry’s motivator.

In short, he got Harry’s ass in gear to realize that it’s more than saving his own bacon but saving others as well.

Characters need to be motivated to push beyond their limits.  For Harry and friends, they were stuck in a fight that was about their world, saving it from evil.  That’s huge, and it makes it easier to see the need for the motivation, but even the smaller stories like The Notebook or The Tommyknockers or Necroscope, where it only affects people in a small cluster, the characters require that push.

Usually, the push is small, goes unnoticed by both the reader and the characters until later in the book when it clicks and you say “hot damn, so that’s what it meant!”  Sometimes though, like in the case of Harry, the push has to be huge.  The knock upside the head type of push, or sometimes a character needs quite a few.

What I find to be more interesting, however, is looking at my own past I am able to find the pushes in my life.  Real world pushes that could have sent me in either direction.  The way I figure it, if it works for us personally, then it should work for our characters too right?

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