Missy, here. And I'm so thrilled to bring you a wonderful teacher, Laurie Schnebly Campbell. I took Laurie's online class, Plotting Via Motivation, and I have to tell you, I'm now a firm believer in her method! Here's Laurie...
We all know God didn't make ANY of us perfect. But sometimes it's tempting to give our characters a motivation that's one-hundred percent kind, honest, charitable, grateful, noble, responsible, loving and good.
The only problem with that is: how can such a person possibly change for the better?
If they're starring in an action-adventure story where readers don't especially care about character development, then we don't need to worry about showing how they grow & learn & change between Chapter One and The End. (James Bond, for instance, has never possessed a whole lot of inner depth, and nobody cares!)
But suppose we want our characters to have room for overcoming something inside them? Something that's keeping them from being as kind-honest-charitable-etc as they COULD be?
That's where we get into motivation. Which, even though it's at the heart of Goal-Motivation-Conflict, is usually the easiest one to overlook when starting a new story.
On the surface, motivation is simple.
There are all kinds of theories of motivation, and they all boil down to the same thing: We want to be Okay.
Whatever it takes to be okay, that's what motivates us.
Maslow talked about that, saying that to be Okay we first need Food and Water...yep, okay...Shelter...got it...then Safety...and in most books, those issues are pretty well taken care of. Sometimes you'll get characters fleeing the murderer in the North Woods or laid off from the factory job, but food isn't usually a driving motivation.
So we get into the next level of what people need to be Okay, which is Belonging / Acceptance / Love. Then there's Respect of Others and Self-Respect, and finally there's the drive to Be All You Can Be. Everywhere along that continuum, you've got some great motivators.
And that matters, because it's the motivation that makes a character interesting.
Where does it come into the story?
Some writers start with the motivation: "let's see, a woman who's motivated by the desire for adventure would be THIS type of person." Other writers start with the character: "my heroine wants to sail to Jamaica, so that must mean she's motivated by adventure."
Either way works fine. And either way leaves you totally free to write any kind of story you want.
Say, given this heroine who wants to sail to Jamaica in search of adventure, could your story be full of soul-deep emotion? Absolutely. Quirky humor? Sure. Dizzying suspense? Of course. Imaginative history? Yep. Heartwarming realism? Yep.
It all depends on how you write it.
So in that case, why does the heroine's motivation even matter?
Because it's what makes her credible. Same as we can't have pink-elephant aliens showing up in some 14th-century castle without sacrificing a bit of credibility, neither can we have this woman sailing off to Jamaica without SOME plausible motivation.
And that's where it's easy for us authors to fall down on the job. We love this heroine who's rigging out her sailboat, we love that she's going to Jamaica, and we know that on the way she'll meet this incredibly witty sailor, and there'll be a pirate attack -- oh, and the pirate ship will have a yellow parrot named Sidney! -- it's all taking shape. We KNOW it'll work, because we can SEE this story.
But there's a down-side...
Thing is, it's that wonderful dazzling clarity which can get us into trouble. Because our readers weren't IN on this first glorious flash of inspiration. They can't see that wonderful vision. All they see is a heroine rigging out her sailboat for a trip to Jamaica, and they have no idea why she's doing it.
Unless the readers GET this heroine's desire for adventure, they're gonna feel out of the loop. They might not know why the story isn't working for them, but they're missing her motivation.
And motivation is what makes a book memorable.
For some writers, it comes so naturally that they never even question how their characters' motivation will feed into the plot. (Which sometimes leaves them at loose ends, wondering what could possibly HAPPEN in this plot.)
For others, it's more of a tack-on because their strength is in plotting. (Which sometimes leaves them wondering how to explain WHY this character did something that seems senseless but is actually integral to the plot.)
And that leads to our prize-drawing question:
Which comes more easily for you, building a character or building a plot? How do you know?
There's no Right Answer or Wrong Answer. (Although if you say "both come so easily that I write fabulous bestsellers in six days," I'll be horribly envious!)
I'd love to hear which you find easier, and somebody who posts will win free registration to my Plotting Via Motivation class coming up at www.writeruniv.comnext month. Which quite a few Seekerville folks have already taken, so you might run into a friend or two in that group. :)
Laurie, who'll start the ball rolling by saying I find character-building easier because I like personality stuff
Laurie Schnebly Campbell (www.booklaurie.com) grew up with a marriage-counselor mother, preparing her to write happy endings for her own books -- including one that beat out Nora Roberts for "Best Special Edition of the Year." The only thing she loves more than writing is working with other writers, which is why she now has a dozen novels on her bookshelf with acknowledgments from authors who loved her class!