Craft wisdom tells us that the characters we write must be motivated by a fundamental driving need–a powerful desire, ambition or goal. Powerful enough that it could drive them to lie, cheat, commit adultery or even murder.
But what if the concept of desire and drive were a bit too simple as a guidepost in character development? As a reader, I confess I often feel that a character’s drive is such a central focus that everything else about the character rings flat. After all, there’s a lot more to each human heart and mind than motive. Padding motive with moments of emotion such as joy at a birthday celebration or grief at the loss of a loved one can feel stiff and fabricated.
A few months back, I had just finished reading a novel that left me pondering all this yet again when a nonfiction book for business leaders came across my desk. At first blush the book, Leading From Purpose, had absolutely nothing to do with fiction or characters or craft. But cross-pollination can happen in the most surprising places, and as I read I could not help thinking that I’d stumbled across the missing link between characters’ motives and what gives them depth.
The concept is simple yet profound: There is this thing called PURPOSE. We all have it. But it’s not what you think. It’s not about a desire to dedicate ourselves to an external cause like saving the planet as people often think. Rather, as the book explains, purpose is the unique gift we each bring to the world and always have. Our purpose has been leading us through our whole lives, in every aspect of our lives, and never changes. It is the solid, internal ground that each of us can stand on while the world is spinning out of control. [Read more…]