Tuesday, June 16, 2009
ToooT! TooooT! Chugga-chugga-chugga-chugga....
Welcome to Seekerville! Today I wanted to talk about something that I think is crucial in story structure, yet something not a lot of authors fully understand. I'm still on this learning train too by the way.
Just this week I was brainstorming a new proposal with my editors in New York the day before Book Expo America and it dawned on me that character motivation has many more layers than I had really consciously thought about before.
If you all wonder if editors even know or care what GMC (Goal, Motivation and Conflict) or good story structure is...the answer is YES! Not only do you need to have it in your stories, you need to be able to have it come across clearly in your synopsis.
"Goals" (what the character wants) sometimes has different terms such as "dreams, wants" etc. Aside: in a romance, hero and heroine's goals have to be more than just winning the heart of the other. They need to have a story goal that is something measurable (either they achieved/met their dream/goal or they did not) and possible within your story timeframe. Most of my story timeframes are four to six months. So they have short term/story goals that have nothing to do with romance. Their goals make up a huge portion of the plot arc. Okay...those hints on goals were extra. On to motivation....
"Motivation" is basically WHY. Why does this character want this goal/dream?
"Conflict" is what keeps them from getting it until the end of the story when their original story goal is either met or changed by way of compromise on the character's part.
In talking over my new proposal with my eds, it dawned on me that characters need internal (motivation) for their (internal) conflicts as well as for their goals.
A lot of times, characters' pasts/backgrounds drive their present and their future goals and conflict, especially internal.
Motivation is the WHY.
WHY do they want the particular goal/dream?
In a romance, you also need to know WHY are they resistant to a relationship with the hero/heroine or to relationships in general...and Inspirationals often have a faith struggle for the character(s) to work through. So you'd probably need to answer the WHY is this person resistant/struggling in their relationship with God. These are all part of what makes up MOTIVATION in story structure.
Motivation must come across clearly in your synopsis because it will help editors know whether your characters have a good chance of being likable and logical yet having a season of growth internally through the book. It will also let them know if there's enough internal conflict to carry the plot.
Example from a recent brainstorm on my proposal (thanks to friends and editors):
I was able to answer these questions in the synopsis:
1. My heroine wants to bring an animal therapy program to Refuge. (goal) WHY? (Motivation)
Because she's an unconventional occupational therapist who has first hand knowledge and experience with animals helping humans since their family pets helped cure her mother's depression after her father died.
2. My hero is shy. WHY?
He stuttered as a child and was a late-in-life-baby and therefore was poorly socialized. Parents were older and didn't have him around other children his age. He's also a special ops airman. The shyness in conjunction with the bravery helps him to be multi-layered and not cliche according to the typical Alpha male.
3. My heroine is most resistant to the romance. WHY?
She watched her mother give up her dreams for her father and doesn't want anyone to make her push her dreams aside. As a pastor's daughter, she was taught that the woman must set her dreams aside for the husband. In addition, her motivation for this (wrong) belief is that her mother drilled it into her to make sure that she gets/does all she wants to in life before she gets married, because her dreams will be pushed to a back burner.
4. Spiritual struggle: Heroine is resistant to Christianity. WHY?
Because of her background with her pastor father putting his church before his family.
5. Part of the relational conflict: Hero being a quiet observer causes conflict with my chatterbox heroine who learned to try to do antics to earn her dad's attention and favor. She feels uncomfortable with silence because she was punished with silent treatments. Her dad used silence as a means to show his displeasure in her or with something she did. Their pasts help motivate part of the tension which drives the aspect of the story where they must learn to communicate. Heroine needs to become comfortable with hero's silence and he must be brave enough to venture out a little from his solace of silence. Heroine has to learn not to assume hero is displeased with her if he's not speaking. He has to learn her talk triggers and that when she's chatty, it's because (MOTIVATION) she is always thinking of others and trying to draw them into conversation. And not because she's trying to change him.
So I have MOTIVATED her spiritual struggle, her relationship reticence, fueled part of their relational conflict and much of the story conflict with MOTIVATION, which almost always stems from relationships or experiences from a character's past or present.
The easiest thing to remember is that MOTIVATION is the WHY and the BECAUSE.
There is much more to motivation, but hopefully this little train will get your creativity chuggin....
Writers, I'd love to hear what the main characters' motivations are for the book you're currently working on. What motivates both their goals and also what is the motivation that fuels their conflicts?
Readers, can you recall and name below in the comments a particularly memorable motivation from a recent book you've read?
Happy motivatin'! Join the discussion, Y'all. We've got rich, sweet Mocha Motivation Muffins in the next car back. Red Cranberry and Cinnamon Swirl Caboose Rolls and Train Whistle Tea on the cart as you step right in. Aaaaaaallll aboard!