If the events of the day point out one thing is that people can do the same thing for completely different reasons.
In the protests, we see people who are sincere about the pain they’ve experienced, others taking up offenses they don’t understand out of self-righteousness and cluelessness, and others with selfish ambition, political motives, nefarious purposes, and violent intent.
Motivation is vital to a writer. Why do your characters do what they do? Can people have opposite motives for doing the same thing, hoping for different outcomes?
Motivation doesn’t have to be logical, but it MUST make sense to the character. You have to ask yourself how your character came to believe what they believe. Is the villain racist? Why? Examined beliefs? Scarring incidents generalized too wide? Self-loathing?
What about the hero? Why are they willing to take the blows and failures?
Every character must have motivation; not every character’s motivation must be explored. I’d suggest the main character and her major partners should be explored, and often the villain’s motives should be examined, too.
There are adventures where the bad guy is just evil. If you’re going for bubblegum fiction, this might be for you (and I’m not disparaging bubblegum fiction… it has its place.)
For enduring fiction, dig in. Our motives define who we are.
Ultimately, the antagonist, normally the villain of the story, promotes change. Their actions spur the heroes into action. Make the change more than just action; a villain can change a hero with their story. They still must be defeated, but a little understanding can change even the purest heart.
Do you get bogged down in the middle of your story? Do you have half-finished novels on your hard drive? For me the answer is “yes” to both questions.
The key to driving through the middle is the PushmePullyou of story: Goals and Motivation.
Goal is the “what” of the story.
Motivation is the “why” of the story.
You’re probably thinking I’ll use Dr. Dolittle as the
example here, where the PushmePullyou two-headed llama comes from, but instead
I’ll fall back on my standby example, The Wizard of Oz.
Once we get through the black and white beginning and into
the second act in color, Dorothy’s goal is to get to the Emerald City and the
Wizard of Oz.
Her motive is also her chief characteristic. She’s worried
about Auntie Em and wants to help. Dorothy’s driving characteristic is her
desire to help and it’s key to understanding why she ran away. On the farm, she
has chores, but no one to help. To help Toto, she runs away. Her concern for
her Aunt drives her from the Dr. Marvel’s wagon back to the farm through a
tornado, which doesn’t (or does) turn out well for her.
Glinda gives Dorothy her goal, which sets her path, conveniently
on the Yellow Brick Road. Soon, where anyone else would be terrified of a living
Scarecrow, she quickly helps him. Then she goes against Scarecrow’s advice and oils
Tin Man. She comes to their aid when they’re attacked by a Lion, then to his
aid when he’s found to be cowardly.
In fact, whenever things get slow, a problem requiring her
help appears. And something else happens, her expectations of Oz are constantly
confounded. Apple trees are alive, animals talk, inanimate objects animate… She
learns that perhaps she’s also failed to see what was always there back home.
That’s what she had to discover by finding her way to the
Emerald City… that there is no place like home.
When I saw this as a kid, maybe 6 years old, I couldn’t
understand why she’d go back. My dad said, “Because they’re no place like home.”
I looked around and said, “I’d stay in Oz.” I hadn’t learned that lesson.
In the book, Dorothy was 12. In the movie, Dorothy is 16, so
staying wouldn’t be unthinkable. So why didn’t she?
It’s important to recognize that Dorothy was flawed. It isn’t
obvious. She has a skewed belief, not recognizing the value of home. She’s naïve
and has much to learn.
A movie is generally paired way down. There is much more
going on in a book; more story lines, more flaws, greater depth. Goals are what
the character wants and that may be a counterpoint to what others want,
producing conflict. Goals keep the story on track. Motivation is why a
character wants what she wants. It may be an untrue or underdeveloped
motivation, or it may be something that needs to be changed or completely left
behind. It drives the fundamental characteristic. Dorothy was all about
helping. Your character may be about solving puzzles, winning at all costs,
being liked, getting drunk.
If you’re bogged down in the middle, ask yourself if your
character is flawed enough, if you’ve discovered her driving characteristic, if
you know what needs to be changed, learned, or left behind. How do you
illustrate that change? What problems push learning? Perhaps a conflicting character
In Save the Cat, Snyder calls the second act Fun ‘n
Games. It isn’t, though. Your second act is a finely crafted obstacle course
designed to sharpen motivation, change character, correct flaws, and gain what
the character needs to enter the third act.
Why does your character do what she does; what is she
supposed to achieve? Establish these in the beginning and demonstrate them in
Next week, Endings.
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