Thursday, March 1, 2012

Character Currency - Writing Motivations That Read Real

I'd like to thank my almost-five-year-old for crystalizing this lesson
for me. (Thanks, son. I'll make you an ice cream).

If you're anything like me you've read a bunch of character / plot
development advice. At some point in any book or blog series you'll
hit the inevitable "make your motivations believable". And, if you're
anything like me, you go "Well, duh." I mean, who sets out to write
unbelievable characters or plotlines?

But, if you're anything like me, you'll also have hit a point
somewhere in your story that you know you're stretching for
credibility... or a crit partner will have identified something they
just didn't buy.

So, how do you make sure your character motivations (which have a
tendency to drive plot) are realistic?

One word: Currency.

Currency is the thing that has value to a character - and it will be
different for every character in your book. But by determining what
each character's currency is, you'll always have something to fall
back on when you find yourself at a point in your story where you know
where you need to go but have trouble figuring out how to get there.

If you want to get a character from one place to another, or one
emotional state to another, use their currency.

For example: In my current WIP there are two main characters. One's
currency is secrecy. She knows things she believes could be
detrimental to the person she loves most. So if I want to move her, I
need to threaten her with loss of her secrets, or reward her with
retaining them.

The other main character's currency is value in the eyes of her peers.
Nothing means more to her than proving she's loveable. If I want to
give her a legitimate reason to move or change, all I need to do is
give her hope of winning friends, or threaten the loss of the few
friends she has.

Can you see how that would work?

Consider your villain. Their currency is most likely something that
harms the protagonist. If you need to corner them, find a way to make
them believe putting themselves in place for defeat will actually do
the opposite.

I hope I've explained this clearly enough. Feel free to ask questions
in the comments!

Your Turn: If you are stuck with a way to move your character or
story, tell us what you think their currency is. Maybe we can help!


  1. Hmm...currency.

    Finn's currency would look like secrecy, but at his core it's freedom.

    Bryan's? Control, I guess.

  2. I think plots can also be made really compelling when an MC's currency has to change but they're fighting against it. I'm interested to know how your almost-five-year-old made this clear for you - did you work out what his currency is? :-)

    1. My son's currency is currently birthday party invites. I realised a friend had manipulated him with the promise of party invites and it got me thiniing about the lengths human beings will go to to get what they want....

  3. Thanks for the tips. I like the way you make them specific and I can see how to try this out. I'm going to think about the currency for each of my characters.

  4. What a great way of thinking about characters. Now I see that my main character's 'currency' is trust - some of his friends have lost trust in him and his main motivation is to earn it back again. Thanks! :)

  5. Currency codes are composed of a country's two-character Internet country code plus a third character denoting the currency unit. gold buyers