One of my Abingdon authors and I had a great discussion about motivation for one of her book's characters . . . a dog. In the first chapter, the dog, who is in the arms of its owner, bites her friend on the face. The incident springs out of nowhere.
I asked, "But what was the dog's motivation?" Am I starting to sound like Marlon Brando? A little perhaps. Like method acting, characters must have a compelling motivation for action, and if not, readers are left with little question marks over their heads. Not an attractive look.
There is a misconception in writing land that characters can only be people. Not so. Ask any fantasy writer. Giant worms make compelling characters. Characters can be objects or animals or even weather. Anyone ever see the 1956 movie The Rainmaker, starring Burt Lancaster and Katherine Hepburn? Great flick! I highly recommend renting it. The hot, dry, dusty weather is a character that longs for rain.
Back to the dog. My point was that a normal, sane dog who has met the owner's friend numerous times doesn't just haul off and bite her on the face for no good reason. Of course, you need to be a dog lover to understand that. Dogs only bite if they feel threatened or if their brains are wired wrong. This was not an insane, mistreated dog.
So editor and author discussed the dog's motivation at length. Can you imagine someone listening to that conversation on the other side of the cubie wall? I have a great job! I also have a discreet suite mate, and we always pretend that we never listen to one another's calls.
The next time one of your characters steps up on the toilet and looks out the tiny high window at a neighbor's house, she should have a history and motivation for spying on the guy next door. Did he drag a dead body across her front lawn? Does he leave bloody axes lying around the garage? And why stand on the toilet? Isn't there a better vantage point? Yes, it's funny for someone to stand on the toilet, but construct a reasonable explanation for her behavior.
The next time you invent a character, ask what that character wants. No dog bites a woman on the face unless it's a sociopath. And that, my friends, could be the subject of several blogs. Watched any Criminal Minds episodes lately?