Floyd Hyatt is with us again today to talk about motivation. Take it away, Mr. Hyatt!
Motivation is one of the primary drivers of character in a plot. However focused on external issues your plot is, some attention must be lavished on your characters’ inner lives, what drives them, their outlooks, histories, and personalities. However briskly this is done, it should be started right along with the character’s introduction, as it is as much a part of him/her/it, as a physical description is.
While this seems fairly obvious, especially in these times of character-driven stories, I have found that many writers try to begin shaping characterization with just dialog or physical description. This, I would point out, seldom works. It’s all well and good to begin a book with a colorful action sequence, but sooner or later, preferably sooner, your stick figure needs to become a personality. The faster this is done, the sooner you will attract the reader’s interest, so don’t write so as to put this off.
Books need their “star performers” as much as films do. The actor may well ask, “what is my motivation”, and so should the author, on the behalf of his characters. Perhaps not the worst idea is to have an imaginary dialog with your character(s) to decide these things, and then write to show that motivation and inner life clearly. Beta readers will let you know how well you have done, and such comments should be attended to. Learning the best ways to write such into your leads, heroes and villains is, and should be, one of the skills that become an unconscious habit–part of the juggling act that writing just is.
This may start as an initial consideration of plot. Okay, you have this wonderful world build. Your character must now thread his adventure though it to a successful conclusion, or at least, to your conclusion successfully. You have a pretty good idea about what that conflict or journey will be like. Perhaps you even started your project with such a conception (good idea, that.) Great. Now, your character turns to you and says, “So what’s my motivation here, at least to start with? Why would I care to leap into this minefield? What drives me? Who the hell am I?”
Is it hard? Is it fun? Is it Boring? It is the lifeblood of fiction writing. It is what you do. Technique will not solve it for you, grammar will only help you write it out clearly, spelling only assures your effort not be sneered at. Your plot provides the reason for writing a story. Your characters live it, are what the reader follows, loves, hates or laughs at. If the reader cannot hooray at your characters’ victories, cry at their defeats, boo the bad guy, you do not have a story yet. To do this, the reader must have a sense of the character as a person. Almost every other aspect of preening a manuscript is simply a series of corrections so long as this and your plot logic are mastered.
WRITING PROMPT: Take three characters meeting for a business lunch. Give each of them a different motivation for the meeting. Write the meeting NOT MENTIONING THE MOTIVATIONS either in dialog or narrative.