"Keeping the Reader Reading,” Part 4.
In one of my first stories, I had the main character in a surly mood in the opening scene without telling the reader why he was acting the way he was. A friend who critiqued the story wrote in the margin, "Who pissed in his oatmeal this morning?" It's a comment I hear in my head every time I discover I need to rewrite an under-motivated character.
Characters should have very good reasons to act as they do, and we must give them motivations that the reader can understand.
In THE GAME WE PLAY, Nick’s motive for stealing the ransom from a very dangerous person is obvious-- he’s the father of the two kidnapped children, but Faith is hired help so I had to create a back story reason for her decision to risk her life to save the kids-- she has known them for over a year because she teaches children’s gymnastics at the Y, and she’s formed a deep bond with these two special kids. She’s also a childless widow who is desperately maternal.
If a character’s motivation is strong enough, the reader will want the character to succeed and will continue reading. The strongest motivation is personal and emotional because it speaks from the character’s heart to the reader’s. That’s a very strong reader hook, indeed.