Posted On January 26, 2011 by Print This Post

M is for – Motivation with Laurie Schnebly

Laurie Schnebly Campbell stops in to talk to us about Character Motivation. What is it, how to get it!

Character Motivation in WritingM is for…hmm, what?

Romance writers probably envision different M-words than, say, bricklayers or hair stylists. For us, it’s all about — well, let’s see.

Marriage-Minded Men.
Mail from fans.
And — oh, yes — Motivation.

Both our own and our characters’.

It’s amazing how writers in other genres don’t necessarily spend much time thinking about motivation. My son used to be — and maybe still is, but now he’s off at college — a big fan of dragon-fantasy-quest books, so I’d read his favorites as a conversation starter. (Anybody else been through that with their teenager?)

Character Motivation with Laurie Schnebly CampbellAnd pretty much every questing hero was motivated by, say, the desire to Save The Kingdom. Or to Slay The Dragon. Or to Befriend The Dragon. Nothing that required much in the way of character development, but which did provide plenty of firestorms.

Those were fabulous books, especially if you like firestorms.

I can just hear my son saying, with equally exquisite courtesy, “My mom’s books are fabulous, especially if you like people falling in love.”

Which certainly CAN involve rip-roaring action, but which tends to emphasize the internal world as well.

That’s where we get into motivation. (And the next several paragraphs will be familiar to those of you who’ve already studied it with me.)

You already know that, no matter what kind of plot you’re building, it’s gotta be motivated by your characters in order to feel plausible. It doesn’t matter whether you’re doing an emotional plot or an action plot or both — what makes it work is the characters.

So what IS it that makes your characters do what they do? Or another way of asking that is, what makes anybody do what they do?

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.

Character Motivation with Laurie Schnebly CampbellMaslow 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.

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. Dizzying suspense? Yep. Mystical fantasy? Yep. Quirky humor? Yep. The hottest sex imaginable? 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.

Character Motivation with Laurie Schnebly CampbellAnd 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 it’s that 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 her 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 they heck can 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.)

Character Motivation with Laurie Schnebly CampbellEither way, motivation is vital. And yet we’ve all found ourselves in trouble with motivation every now and then. So that’s my question for you:

When was the last time you found yourself dealing with a problem character? Who was this person? What did he or she do? How did you resolve the situation?

Everybody here will be able to sympathize with such a situation, because pesky characters strike EVERY writer! And somebody who posts today will win help for all their future characters with free registration to my “Plotting Via Motivation” class at next month.

Meanwhile, I can’t wait to see those pesky characters on parade — because it’s always a lot more fun to read about other people’s problems than to focus on our own. 🙂

Laurie, in the first month of a new job where I’m being VERY scrupulous about checking email only during lunch and after work…so don’t worry if it takes a while to hear back; I’m definitely checking soon!


RU Crew, give Laurie’s questions a shot. Tell us about how you dealt with motivation in one of your characters.

Join us Thursday and Friday when Toni McGee Causey stops by with a POV workshop – you won’t want to miss it!


Laurie’s Bio:

Laurie Schnebly Campbell ( grew up in a family that discussed psychology around the dinner table. With a marriage counselor for a mother, she felt well equipped to get her romance-novel couples to a happy ending…which might be what helped her win “Best Special Edition of the Year” over Nora Roberts.

The only thing she loves more than writing romance is working with other writers, which is why she now teaches an online class every month and has written a book for novelists who want to create believable characters with built-in fatal (or not quite fatal) flaws.

Similar Posts:

Share Button

Anatomy of the Mind


96 Responses to “M is for – Motivation with Laurie Schnebly”

  1. Most excellent post! I have taken courses with Laurie on plot via motivation, particularly because my strength is plotting, and characters and believable conflict is the area that I have to work hardest at. In my newest book, Bound to Love, which is out on Valentines Day, my heroine, Tempest McKenzie, found herself in a sticky situation when she jumps in recklessly to help Jake Forrester, who’s being kidnapped. It was an interesting scene, but after doing the course with Laurie, I had to ask, Why? Why, Tempest are you doing this? What compels you into danger, makes you risk yourself for someone you don’t even know? By digging really deep into her character and history, I discovered her motivation – and of course her deep inner beliefs clash full on with Jakes! Great post, Laurie. Keep on being an inspiration!

    Posted by Sally Clements | January 26, 2011, 5:07 am
    • Sally, it’ll be such fun reading Tempest and Jake’s whole story — I sure enjoyed watching the skeleton take shape! One more reason to look forward to Valentine’s Day, and hope I can content myself with a good read instead of overindulging in Pete’s chocolate. 🙂

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | January 26, 2011, 8:18 am
  2. <>

    Hi Laurie
    Your quote just about describes what happens to me when I’m plotting a story.
    I remember in my last book, what really helped me was asking myself, “What does this character want?”, then proceeding to “Why does he/she want it?” Brainstorming on both these questions for all my characters helps me build the inner conflict of each one and how that can contrast with the inner conflict of another character. I try to choose the less obvious solutions to make it more interesting.


    When was the last time you found yourself dealing with a problem character? Who was this person? What did he or she do? How did you resolve the situation?

    Posted by Audrey | January 26, 2011, 5:15 am
  3. Hi Laurie,

    Thanks for joining us again at RU. It’s always nice chatting with you about craft!

    In my first book, I have a pretty damaged heroine and the hero spent the whole book supporting her, encouraging her, and saving her. But what motivated him to do so? What were his fears, etc.? I didn’t realize that I’d not fully developed the hero for quite some time, because my focus was entirely on the heroine.

    It was an interesting thing to realize. Hopefully, I’ve finally made up for my neglect. 🙂


    Posted by TraceyDevlyn | January 26, 2011, 5:31 am
    • Tracey, I’d say it’s a safe bet you HAVE outgrown that sole-focus-on-heroine style!

      Seems like that happens with a lot of writers, though…I always used to pay a lot more attention to the hero, until my sister observed “I don’t much like your heroine” and I realized I’d been deliberately making her less attractive so the hero would fall in love with ME instead. Ulp.

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | January 26, 2011, 8:23 am
  4. Hi, Laurie–love your classes!

    I had a tough time with Emma in the paranormal I just started to write–she was fixated on her boss, and saw him as a means to a stable/wealthy life for herself and her son.

    The hero so messes with her plan, but I wasn’t so clear on WHY stability was an issue for her. So I started delving into her background, and she was an orphan, the only survivor of a tragedy she doesn’t remember. She always moved around, and after her husband died she had a lot of debt, and she was determined to pay it back, and she sees her new job/ hot-boss-who-seems-interested-in-her as the opportunity to gain both financial stability and a life with a solid footing beneath her.

    I got to safety as her motivation.

    The boss turns out to be a bad guy, bringing the past danger back to her. She will need to realize she now has the tools to stand and face the past, and the hero will help her see she has the strength to do that. At the end, she won’t feel the need to run anymore.

    So that’s what I came up with, and hopefully that works!

    Posted by Liz Slawinski | January 26, 2011, 7:35 am
    • Liz, how cool that Emma learns to stand on her own two feet — that journey toward strength will be wonderfully dramatic!

      Every so often somebody will talk about a grim childhood, and I never know whether to tell them “hey, at least you’d make a great romance-novel character.” What do you suppose Emma would say if she heard that? 🙂

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | January 26, 2011, 8:25 am
  5. Nicely done post! Character motivation is hugely important. I didn’t understand it very well when I first started writing, then someone explained it to me this way: look around your life. Pay attention to real people. What makes them do what they do? Did they have a bad incident in childhood? Were they hurt in some way during their dating life, etc. Motivation is what will make characters behave and respond to every single thing that happens in their life. Now, once I find that tricky little thing for my characters, it’s like the light went on in their path and the story falls into place.

    Best wishes in your career!

    Posted by Sandi Sookoo | January 26, 2011, 7:46 am
    • Sandi, I love your line about finding that one tricky little thing that makes the light bulb go on — isn’t that the most thrilling moment?

      Well, except maybe for getting the original idea…or finally typing The End…or hearing how much a reader liked your book…drat, so many choices!

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | January 26, 2011, 8:27 am
  6. Hi, Laurie! Plot Via Motivation was a great class, and your continual interaction really challenged me and kept me going. Your homework assignments were excellent, and I find myself rereading my notes.

    Today your questions are:
    1.When was the last time you found yourself dealing with a problem character? 2. Who was this person? 3.What did he or she do? How did you resolve the situation?

    My answers are:
    1. yesterday
    2. the “bad boy” dating one of my main characters in the very plot I created during PLOT VIA MOTIVATION (I write YA.)
    3. Answering a question with a question, what doesn’t he do? He’s self-absorbed and greedy. He wants more than his girlfriend is willing to give, and yes, it’s sex. He’s fun to write and he’s got great motivation but, I got so carried away, he’s as predictable as a cartoon bad guy. Think Gaston in Beauty and the Beast. Heartless.
    4.My fix-it plan is to give our big buffoon, I mean, predictable bad boy, a moment or two of almost-redeeming moments and drop crumbs of his fascinating motivation along the path, I mean, right from the beginning of the plot. I’d managed to save why he is like he is until the end–not on purpose really, but ultimately it arrives like a big bang. However, the book is not about this character, and dumping his motivation has stolen the show. I will hereby get the true ending back.

    You’re a great teacher, Laurie! Thanks for a terrific post!


    Posted by Nancy Kay Bowden | January 26, 2011, 7:48 am
    • Nancy, what a great plan to turn the caricature bad guy into a possibly redeemable character — that’ll keep readers a lot more engaged in wondering how things will turn out.

      And, boy, the memory of Gaston has me now humming songs from Beauty & The Beast…it’ll be fun having that music in my head today, while dreaming of Broadway shows this summer!

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | January 26, 2011, 8:39 am
  7. Hi Laurie. I always enjoy your guest posts and your classes.

    My last uncooperative character was Bridget in Proof of Life. I couldn’t get a handle on who she was, even though I knew where she came from emotionally. I used your technique of asking Why? from my hero, Michael’s, point of view. Together Michael and I finally asked why enough to understand Bridget and her motivations. Since Michael had similar motivations, he cut her some slack even though she drove him crazy!

    Posted by Misty Evans | January 26, 2011, 7:49 am
    • Oh, Misty, I remember that frustration with Bridget — and turning Michael loose on her was a fabulous way to break the logjam. 🙂

      That seems like a long time ago now, but I suspect it actually wasn’t…where can I get Proof of Life?

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | January 26, 2011, 8:41 am
      • Seems like a long time ago to me, too! Bridget and Michael really came alive after I went through your motivation class notes, though, so their story stays with me. Proof of Life is available in ebook and print format at Amazon, B&N and Samhain Publishing.

        Your enneagrams book on my bookshelf is getting worn out, I’ve referenced it so many times. If you ever put the plotting via motivation lessons in a workbook, I’ll be first in line to buy it. 🙂

        Posted by Misty Evans | January 26, 2011, 9:29 am
  8. Morning Laurie!

    Oh I love your posts. I learn so much every time. For anyone who hasn’t taken plotting via motivation, it’s an excellent learning experience!

    My uncooperative character? My new hero was supposed to be a bit of a fussy guy, squeamish, pampered who lands on a deserted island. But did he listen? Nope. Turns out he’s ex-FBI, knows karate and once I started asking why why why, he has quite an amazing story to tell. =) Good thing I listened when he started arguing with me! lol….

    great having you here!


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | January 26, 2011, 8:12 am
    • Carrie, I like your policy of listening to the hero when he argues — SO much nicer to have a guy who’ll do that than one who just clams up. (Although I’m sure there’ve been characters whose creators WISH would shut up once in a while.)

      It’ll be fun hearing how this former FBI hotshot became a desert-island chief!

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | January 26, 2011, 8:43 am
  9. Laurie,

    What a fantastic post and a great read for me just before I dive back into fixing this very problem (now that baby is napping.) First of all to all you readers and commenters, if you haven’t taken Laurie’s Plot Via Motivation class you simply must. It is a must for anyone who wants to make a career out of this crazy and competitive industry.

    To answer your questions:

    1. When was the last time I found myself dealing with a problem character?
    During my current WIP. I write YA Fantasy. I’m currently tacking the problem now.

    2. Who was the person? The amazingly hot and mysterious hero!

    3. What did he do? He is keeping his true identity a secret to the heroine. Where this became a problem is that he has become to mysterious. He has become almost unlikable (personality wise, he is very hot) and seemingly unreachable to my heroine. I need to, as Nancy well put it, “leave some bread crumbs for the reader.” Like Laurie said the reader was not a part of my brilliant story plan.

    4. How am I resolving this problem?
    In my revisions I found that this story, even though a fantastic story had several problem areas. Number 1- It was in first person and therefore the reader wasn’t immersed into the fantasy world I created as much as I would have liked. This is a great example of the need to keep in mind that the reader does not know what you know! So I’m halfway through rewriting it into third person.

    This solution to one problem is also helping me to fix my hero’s motivation. Yes, I LOVE suspense but I can’t taunt the reader too much with it. So, I’m revealing a little bit at a time about why he might be hiding his identity. I wanted it to be a BIG shocker at the end but by letting the reader know before the heroine I believe that the ending will still hold it’s “awe” and maybe even more so. By the reader knowing about his motivations they will better understand him and route harder for him and my heroine to get together.

    I also want to add for writers to not focus so much on the main cast that you forget the secondary cast. I’m saying this because I’ve done it. I found that once I solidified the secondary cast’s motivations that it gave my story great richness.

    Again, Laurie I loved the post. Thank you for all your fabulous wisdom and continual efforts to help us writers!

    Happy writing everyone!
    Natalie C. Markey

    Posted by Natalie C. Markey | January 26, 2011, 10:02 am
    • Natalie, I’m right on board with your idea of letting the reader in on the Big Secret before the heroine knows it — since they won’t know a whole LOT farther ahead than her, there’s no risk of them sniping “gee, how stupid could she be, not having figured it out yet?”

      The fact that they’ve only just gotten the secret themselves will let them enjoy it all the more when she does!

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | January 26, 2011, 1:53 pm
  10. Hi Laurie,

    I read the Twilight series before my daughter. Made for some interesting conversations. My problem character is my heroine’s mom. She’s nosy, but is it good or bad? I wrote her mean. I loved Tony Soprano’s mom. Now, after a few days, I may go back and make her goofy. My heroine is going to need help by the end of the book. Maybe mom will save the day.

    I’m looking forward to your class on Sunday.

    Mary Jo Burke

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | January 26, 2011, 10:04 am
    • Mary Jo –

      It’s interesting–but frustrating!–when we have to change a character mid-book or after the draft. The good news is when you’re savvy enough to recognize the need for the change!

      Good luck,

      Posted by KelseyBrowning | January 26, 2011, 11:16 am
    • Mary Jo, it’ll be fun seeing what the heroine’s mom becomes — sounds like you can make a good case for EITHER mean or goofy. And of course whichever way she is will have an influence on how the heroine is, so that might be handy to consider up front.

      Think about people YOU know who grew up with goofy moms and mean moms. They’re sure not all the same kind of people in any case, but if you switched their moms it’d make at least some difference in their personality!

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | January 26, 2011, 1:56 pm
  11. Hi Laurie,

    ‘When was the last time you found yourself dealing with a problem character? Who was this person? What did he or she do? How did you resolve the situation?’

    A couple of years ago I had a heroine who loved children, but had lost a child and then her husband had left the marriage because she couldn’t get over the loss. She was was so wary of loving and losing again that she steered well clear of children (and any attractive men who showed an interest in her) adopted a brisk business-like exterior and and threw herself totally into her career. I decided her motivation was emotional safety.

    She was a problem beacause to be truly happy she needed a family and not emotional safety. But she couldn’t acknowledge this. So the motivation (safety) wasn’t helping her at all. So if I let it drive her story she’d end up very unhappy (not good for a romance!)
    I eventually realised that she had 2 layers of motivation. One slightly more conscious than the other. She eventually came to see what she really wanted (family) but the idea of her having these 2 opposing motivations made her story difficult to plan. (Which was should be driving her?)

    The book was published so I must have got it right (eventually), but after doing the Plotting Via Motivation class I learned there’s a different (and easier ) way of tackling the character with 2 seemingly opposing motivations.

    Now when faced with a character like this I think much harder about what’s driving them and try to find a deep need/motivation that the two seemingly opposing motivations will feed into. My heroine above actually has one motivation: comfort — but she has a misguided view about the type of comfort that will make her happy. She needs to learn that she won’t get the comfort she needs from avoiding love, only from opening herself up and risking loving again with a new family

    Giving her one single motivation doesn’t change her or her attitude, but makes palnning her story so much easier.

    Thank you Laurie. 🙂

    Posted by Janet | January 26, 2011, 10:07 am
    • Janet, talk about a great summary of a whole LOT of work — you wrapped it up beautifully there!

      Isn’t it amazing how publication sometimes relieves any doubts we might’ve had about “did I get it right?” The confirmation that somebody else thinks our work is right enough to pay for it can be a wonderfully comforting answer. 🙂

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | January 26, 2011, 1:58 pm
  12. Hey Laurie! Thanks for this post today — it’s a great reminder for me as I look to tackle a rewrite and start thinking about the next book. In my current YA, my heroine finds herself in a reactive situation and her main goal is, as you said, to be OK. But as far as heroines go, it feels almost too passive to let her get away with this basic of a survival tactic. As I venture deeper into the rewrite, your post reminds me that I should pull back at least one more layer to discover what else her journey is about. She’s a smart, plucky gal — I think she wants to be OK but she definitely wants more than that, too.

    Great post, as always!

    Posted by Becca Wilder | January 26, 2011, 10:11 am
    • Becca, good for you on thinking about peeling back another layer — the heroine probably won’t be too happy with the process, but the readers sure will be!

      Because you’re right that just wanting to be okay isn’t quite enough to keep a character interesting. (Although it certainly CAN work when the book is more about “how will Chris evade the man-eating sharks?”) But with no sharks in your story — at least I hope not! — you’re right in planning to get more drama out of her motivation. 🙂

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | January 26, 2011, 2:01 pm
  13. Ah, motivation is my biggest buggaboo. Just recently, I was 3/4 done with a novella, a retelling of a fairytale, and one of my cps asked “why doesn’t the heroine just leave?”. Um…darn those cps with all their good questions. Hm…now that I think about it, I”m still not sure I’ve answered the question.

    Thanks for a great, thought-provoking, post, Laurie. Informative and fun, as always.

    Posted by Luanna | January 26, 2011, 10:31 am
    • Luanna, now I’M dying to know why the heroine doesn’t leave, as well — talk about a good way of rousing suspense with a very quick blurb!

      Have you gotten that resolved yet? If so, I’d love to hear your solution. (Otherwise everybody on here will have to make up their own. Although, hmm, in some cases it might be more fun than whatever we SHOULD be working on….)

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | January 26, 2011, 2:03 pm
  14. I’m another PVM alumna. My last problem character? Everyone of them!
    I can come up with great situations, but in these sometimes bizarre circumstances, I needed help shaping characters that were real, not just plot devices or caricatures. Asking why (my favorite question — just ask any of my grade-school teachers) again and again really gets at the juicy middle of a character, but it is really hard work.

    As for my most recalcitrant character? She’s from a book in which I did not use PVM. She was a real bubble-brain, but I needed to make her much more substantial. She needed to be someone other people could root for. Giving her believable motives (she’s looking for fame to get love) made that possible. It also meant a TON of re-writing, too. (Not sure if I should thank Laurie for that!)

    Posted by Heidi | January 26, 2011, 10:36 am
    • Heidi, I’d love to know what happened with that heroine who wanted love & fame — she DOES sound like a pesky character, drat it.

      And I suspect quite a few of us have someone like that, who never has quite come up to snuff (that’s what Regency characters say, right?) and who we can’t quite shove in a drawer and forget because there was something about ’em that made ’em so intriguing in the first place! Hmm, maybe like the high school boyfriend we didn’t marry…

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | January 26, 2011, 2:05 pm
  15. Laurie, loved this recap of your Plotting Via Motivation class, and the use of the Maslow pyramid. Looking forward to taking another of your classes in March. See you then!

    Posted by Dennise | January 26, 2011, 10:40 am
    • Dennise, I’m impressed with anyone who’s already got March figured out on the calendar — you must be a very well-organized planner!

      Which might explain why the Maslow pyramid is so appealing…isn’t it cool the way everything is bundled so neatly into those seven stripes? Kind of makes me want to be a scientist who figures out things like that. 🙂

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | January 26, 2011, 2:07 pm
  16. Hi Laurie! I’m a student in the “Personality Ladder” class! While I haven’t actually written an entire manuscript (which will be rectified soon!), I have several “irons in the fire.”

    One story I have been ruminating for the past 6 months involves a heroine who wants to break into the reality tv market. She chooses to do a pilot following petty criminals who have been involved with alchol or drugs and subsequently turn their lives around. I know why the TV producer hero has chosen to take an interest in her pilot (his brother is on probation for vehicular manslaughter), but I have been trying to come up with a plausible reason why she has taken on this subject matter.(Are all my books going to be such weighty issues?) I really don’t want the cliche “I came from a bad home” as a motivator.

    She is a Nurturer; her strength is tenacity and her weakness is trust. She is motivated by her talent to help others have a better life.

    I have been watching reality tv shows (and COPS) to find out what motivates the COUNSELORS, instead of the story behind the people being interviewed/arrested. What is their motivation for being a rehab counselor? A policeman? Someone wanting to help the less fortunate in society? The heroine, as a story teller, is relaying a different side of society and offering hope. I came up with the idea that she was alone on a Thanksgiving and decided to volunteer at the local homeless shelter. Through this experience, her realization of why people are homeless was shattered. She decided to use her talent to shed light on this part of society, and offer a way out to those people needing a helping hand.

    Posted by Karen Goodchild | January 26, 2011, 10:43 am
    • Karen –

      Very interesting concept and questions. I’m certainly not answering for Laurie, but a couple of thoughts popped into my head…

      What if she has a sibling who started with this petty stuff, but wasn’t able to turn his/her life around? That might mean death, prison or living on the streets.

      Or what if she has/had an addict parent? Maybe not abusive, but the addiction still impacted the family. Maybe they never had enough money, or your heroine had to take care of her siblings.

      She might also fear she has the same tendencies.

      Best of luck with this story!

      Posted by KelseyBrowning | January 26, 2011, 11:14 am
      • Kelsey,

        Good ideas, something to think about!

        Posted by Karen Goodchild | January 26, 2011, 12:04 pm
        • Karen, isn’t it fun coming up with “why”s like that? I think that might be my favorite part of plotting via motivation, is nailing it down to the point where you KNOW you’ve got the perfect answer!

          I forget what that’s called in the class — all that comes to mind is Golden Moment, and I’m pretty sure that’s not it. But in any case, have a great time finding that for your reality-TV heroine…it sounds like a great concept. 🙂

          Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | January 26, 2011, 2:10 pm
  17. Good morning, Laurie!

    It’s always such a delight to have you at RU.

    Sometimes it’s a wonder any of us can string a coherent story together with as many details and techniques we need to keep in mind. However, motivation is a bedrock, isn’t it? A couple of things jumped out at me in your lecture: 1. I often “see” scenes in my mind before I write, but have no idea at that point why the scene happens and 2. I normally have a much harder time with my heroines.

    What are your thoughts on quick drafting a scene to get it out on paper and then putting it aside to figure out the “why” of it later?

    I was re-reading some contest feedback this week, and one takeaway is that I need to craft a more sympathetic heroine. I tend to write strong, snarky-ish heroines. Any thoughts on how to make those women more sympathetic? LOL

    As for your questions…
    When was the last time you found yourself dealing with a problem character? Every time I write :).

    Who was this person? It’s normally my heroine, and I don’t think the book I’m starting now is any exception.

    What did he or she do? Although she didn’t inherit “powers” from her mage/sorcerer father, she acts like it doesn’t matter to her. However, she’s living in a sort of halfway world where her business caters to the parallel (paranormal) world.

    How did you resolve the situation? I haven’t yet – LOL. Alexis has a need to belong, yet she holds herself apart from people. She needs to learn that acceptance/belonging means that she, and others, accept her differences.

    Any thoughts you have on the above are more than welcome, Laurie!

    Thanks so much for being here today,

    Posted by KelseyBrowning | January 26, 2011, 11:10 am
    • Kelsey, I will return the comment favour! What if your heroine really DOES have a power, one she doesn’t realize until later in the book? Maybe her power could be something subtle like intuition or healing? Once she stops fighting herself and denying who she is, she starts listening to her internal “power” that can ultimately save the day, win the hero, make a successful parallel business…

      Posted by Karen Goodchild | January 26, 2011, 12:40 pm
      • Oh, Karen!

        You must’ve looked at my brainstorming notes :). She’s going to get what she thought she wanted externally, but I’m going to twist it (somehow) so that it still doesn’t meet her internal need.

        I’m going to torture these two characters if at all possible!

        Thanks so much for your ideas!

        Posted by Kelsey Browning | January 26, 2011, 2:18 pm
        • Okay… another idea. What if her power of intuition is perhaps mistakenly believed to be a “wish” that something bad is going to happen, rather than a warning that could help someone. Your heroine could think she is unintentionally hurting people, making her withdraw even more. ???


          She could use her power of intuition in the “normal” world and people will start to distrust her, maybe thinking she is more magical than she is! She will then have to turn to the paranormal world that she has been secretly shunning – and her hero – to help ward off some evil.

          Posted by Karen Goodchild | January 26, 2011, 4:37 pm
          • Kelsey, a bunch of good questions! As for my thoughts on quickly drafting a scene and figuring out the ³why² later, some writers have an easier time figuring out the why after they¹ve watched the characters in action for a while; others prefer understanding that up front. So (even though I personally lean toward the second method) there¹s sure no Wrong way to do it…the Right way is whatever WORKS for you.

            Making characters sympathetic is easier when the reader knows their weak spots as well as their snarky strengths. For instance, if we see Alexis never quite feeling like she belongs even when on the surface she DOES, we¹ll get that she¹s overlooked some vulnerability within herself — like the fact that she hasn¹t yet truly accepted her difference. And then we¹ll be rooting for her even as she tries to hide that vulnerability, because it¹ll be so easy to identify with her. We¹ve all experienced that not-good-enough feeling at one point or another!

            Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | January 26, 2011, 6:36 pm
          • Karen,

            I like the way you think! I think you’ve hit on something great in her unintentionally hurting people – nice!


            Posted by Kelsey Browning | January 28, 2011, 2:48 pm
  18. Hi Laurie! Welcome back. We love when you visit. It’s great timing too because I spent all afternoon yesterday using your character interview template to grill my hero. Gotta tell ya, Laurie, I love, love, love that template. I’ve used it on three books now and I have more fun with it each time.

    Anyhoo, I learned some interesting things about the hero as I was answering the questions. We kept coming back to the fact that he’s relentless in everything he does. It’s his strength and his weakness because he doesn’t know when to stop. He loves to “bust chops,” but doesn’t have that filter that tells him to dial it down and it often gets him in trouble.

    The only thing I can’t figure out is why he is like this! LOL.

    Your class sounds great. I’ll just be popping over there to sign up for that one!

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | January 26, 2011, 11:32 am
  19. Sometimes I feel that one of my characters has a stronger, more well-defined motivation than the other one does, so I’m working to balance that out. I think I’ve gotten some great ideas from this post as well as the comments. So I’m back to work!

    Posted by Donna Cummings | January 26, 2011, 11:37 am
    • Donna – what are you working on these days??


      Posted by Kelsey Browning | January 26, 2011, 12:34 pm
      • Hi Kelsey,

        I’m finishing up the first book of a Regency historical series. Then I may dip back into another contemp that tickles me. Your story sounded very intriguing. 🙂

        Posted by Donna Cummings | January 26, 2011, 2:20 pm
        • Donna, you¹re sure not alone in having mismatched-motivation characters…seems like that troubles a lot of writers. (Including me.) Often one of them will spring into being almost fully-grown right from the start, with such a clear personality that we totally GET this person and feel like they¹ll be a piece of cake to work with.

          Then there are the others, who lag behind. Sometimes they¹re overshadowed by that dazzling counterpart, and other times they just never got quite as much attention to development because they came along later in the planning process. But thinking in terms of balance means you¹ll have a much better-matched set of people. 🙂

          Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | January 26, 2011, 6:39 pm
        • Donna –

          I’m in AWE of people who can write historical. Especially someone who can switch back and forth between contemp and historical.

          Good writing!

          Posted by Kelsey Browning | January 28, 2011, 2:52 pm
  20. I’m already registered for the class next month Laurie and I can hardly wait! After attending one of your classes at ECWC, I just had to learn more from you. 🙂

    Posted by Joan Satterlee | January 26, 2011, 12:35 pm
    • Joan, it¹ll be a treat seeing you next month — I always look forward to the first day of a class; it¹s such a kick discovering familiar faces. Er, names. Er, well…

      I remember once at a conference, a woman I didn¹t recognize came up and introduced herself like we were old friends. I was aghast at not recognizing her as (paraphrasing here) good old Mary Smith. But suddenly everything clicked into place and I cried “Smith dot Mary at yahoo dot com” — it really WAS like meeting an old friend!

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | January 26, 2011, 6:40 pm
  21. Hi Laurie!
    Your Plotting via Motivation class was so amazingly helpful.

    Daphne was my peskiest character. She was a twelve year-old, living in a relative’s creepy old house. She hated the house and kept scheming to get her family thrown out. Why? To further my plot, of course. But that wasn’t cutting it with my critiquers. It didn’t make sense to them. They were right. When I “interviewed” Daphne and figured out her core need, everything began to make more sense. Her core need was home and family. Her mother was off traveling for work, and Daphne felt abandoned and unwanted. To Daphne, that old house represented everything wrong with her life.

    Once I got the concept of a core need, then not only did I know what my characters wanted, deep down, but I also knew exactly the kind of thing they’d do to mess up their lives. Characterization and plot, hand in hand. It was like being hit by a bolt of lightning!

    Posted by Jennifer G | January 26, 2011, 12:50 pm
    • Jennifer, what a great description of your lightning bolt! I¹m delighted at hearing pesky Daphne might have a new chance; that always sounded like a book worth pursuing. 🙂

      And, boy, you¹ve gotta love winding up with characterization and plot, hand in hand — even people who strongly prefer one element over the other can enjoy a book when both of them work so neatly together.

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | January 26, 2011, 6:41 pm
  22. Hi Laurie:

    Your lecture most helpful and so were the comments. I’m going to have to bookmark this one!

    I’m in the middle of a motivation crisis. Fortune shone one me when I picked up two marvelous CP’s from the Women’s Fiction chapter. First crit understood h/h Ms and even outlined for me. Second one didn’t get it with the hero. His Ms are clearly spelled out but further on in the book. Now I’m arguing with myself as to whether I move the Ms up front or let the reader wonder for a while. will have a great opp to play with this as I’m convinced that a different starting point is fantastic suggestion so chapter one is going into the shredder leaving me all kinds of new Chapter 1 options.

    Hmmm…head hurts from thinking!

    My thanks to all,

    Posted by Pet Aubol | January 26, 2011, 1:22 pm
    • Pet, isn¹t it amazing how different even the most marvelous critique partners can be in their reactions to things? Life is so much easier when they both say ³it¹s fabulous² or ³it¹s awful² — well, no, probably not when they say THAT.

      Your plan of playing with when to clarify the hero¹s motivation sounds like a good one; it¹s nice having the enthusiasm and time to try various options and see what works. Have fun choosing your new opening chapter!

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | January 26, 2011, 6:41 pm
  23. Hi, Laurie!
    Great post on motivation. I’m actually trying to define a problem that shows my heroine’s motivation early. She is committed to a plan that will help college students have a successful freshman year. This must be something that was important to her when she went off to college, something that was life changing for her. But, you’ve made me realize that I need to define this before I can move forward.
    As always, thanks for your ability to get straight to the crux of the matter!

    Posted by Anne Parent | January 26, 2011, 1:51 pm
    • Anne, think about what she hopes to gain by doing this — a sense of closure? Pride? Relief? Competence? Release? Those are just a few possibilities, but each one puts a slightly different spin on her character.

      Once YOU know her, it¹ll be easy to choose which (if any) among those and a hundred other possibilities feel right on target. You already know I¹m a big believer in picking a single word, but you can use as many words as you want to get to that point!

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | January 26, 2011, 6:42 pm
  24. Laurie said: …that dazzling clarity which can get us into trouble. Because our readers weren’t IN on this first glorious flash of inspiration.

    Yes! We often know and understand our character’s motivation, but we have to find a way to get that on the page. Thanks!

    Posted by Jami Gold | January 26, 2011, 2:10 pm
    • Jami, I like your observation of how “getting motivation on the page” is crucial to having a character whom readers will GET. And it¹s funny how just knowing someone intimately isn¹t always enough to let us show them clearly — think what a hard time we¹d have describing ourselves, or our children, or our best friends in just a few hundred words.

      Of course, that¹s why we get paid big bucks (in theory, anyway) to do what we do…most people flat-out CAN¹T describe anyone, no matter how well they know ’em, in a way that resonates with other people. So we¹re lucky at being
      able to do that, at least when everything goes well. 🙂

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | January 26, 2011, 6:43 pm
  25. Oh, drat, I’m seeing so many more posts I want to address and I’ve gotta head back to work. (Normally I do my lunchtime email in the building lobby’s bank conference room, only today their wifi wasn’t working and I had to run to a nearby Starbucks with my sandwich in hand.)

    More coming up right after work tonight…thanks, everybody, for all these FABULOUS questions and answers!

    Laurie, who’ll be back in just over four hours from now (except without the sandwich)

    Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | January 26, 2011, 2:14 pm
  26. I’ve taken several of Laurie’s classes and always learn lots. My biggest problem is in getting to the emotion behind my characters’ actions. Laurie’s class on plotting via motivation was a great help–especially in my latest release CHOSEN, where my heroine is thrown into the path of a reputed vampire and learns she’s been set up by her boss to die or become a vampire herself.

    I agree with all the wonderful comments already left and, of course, with all the terrific information Laurie provides here.
    Dee Brice
    Erotic Fantasies Where Nothing is Forbidden

    Posted by Dee Brice | January 26, 2011, 2:19 pm
  27. Hi, Laurie! 🙂 I always love your posts and I’ve been re-reading my notes from His Personality Ladder this week, trying to formulate some fun characters. The one character giving me the most trouble recently is me – but that’s another story. Otherwise, my new heroine. I like the heroes so much better than the heroines too. In this case, I know more about what’s motivating her, but less about how she deals with it, which is making it difficult to write her scenes. But I’ll get there. I will.

    Thanks for a great lecture!

    Posted by Jamie Farrell | January 26, 2011, 3:22 pm
  28. What a great blog, Laurie! I love that you read your son’s favorite dragon books so you’d have something to talk about. That’s how I discovered the Harry Potter books! I had an agreement with both of my kids – whenever they really liked a book, I’d read it, too, so we could discuss it. I found a lot of great books that way!

    The last time I dealt with a pesky character was when I wrote the first draft of the story I’m working on now. I had three characters – two men and a woman – who were like the Three Musketeers when they were growing up. The friendship changed when two of them married, and then divorced. The story starts a few years after the divorce, and in my original story, the romance involved the divorced couple getting back together again.

    But then there was the pesky friend. He was a stand-up guy – loyal, patient, protective – and he had kept his feelings to himself when the woman he loved married his best friend. I planned to give him his own story eventually, but he didn’t want to wait.

    I’ve had to completely overhaul the story to give the hero and heroine motivations and conflicts to make them overcome hurdles and discover why they are meant for each other, but it’s working much better this way. This guy knew what he wanted, and made me rewrite the whole story so he could reach his goal.

    Posted by Becke Martin/Davis | January 26, 2011, 3:41 pm
    • Beckie, what a treat to come across a character who KNOWS what he wants so clearly that the author just has to go along for the ride — like a cab driver whose passenger has the route already mapped out. 🙂

      And how cool that you¹d read any book your kids really liked…that¹s one of the best pieces of parenting advice I¹ve ever come across, and I hope everybody reading this blog comes across it because it¹s a winner!

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | January 26, 2011, 6:46 pm
  29. I wanted to pipe in and agree with the writer who said the problem character was “herself.” Yep, that’s me too. 🙂 Laurie, your classes have taught me so much. I know if I use any of the tools you’ve taught (motivation, flaw, personality ladder…) I always get great ideas to flesh out my characters and find the ideal plots for them to grow and change. Thanks so much for all that you do!

    Posted by Cathryn Parry | January 26, 2011, 4:11 pm
    • Cathryn, you¹re VERY welcome — it¹s a delight for me, as well, and I just realized I haven¹t been saying “you¹re welcome” to everybody who¹s posted their thanks. But if people haven¹t stopped reading by now, I can tell everyone the same thing I¹ll tell you…I can¹t think of a single thing more enjoyable than teaching people who find these tools useful!

      Except nobody needs to mention that to my husband, who can probably think of all kinds of things he¹d imagine I enjoy even more…

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | January 26, 2011, 6:47 pm
  30. Hi Laurie,

    Great post! I’m one of your current Hero’s Ladder students, and after all the positive comments about your PVM course, I think I’ll be taking that one too.
    I had some challenges with the heroine in my recently completed ms. Ones that I hope I addressed, but I’m still having doubts. The protagonist is a young woman stranded away from home, surviving and making new friends. What she does is meddle in people’s lives, trying to help them with their problems. She’s resourceful and altruistic, and usually she succeeds. The main problem (of the story) is her employer, who has a complex, tragic and mysterious past that Sophie wants to fix in some way (by returning her lost lover and estranged daughter to her), because the woman is so melancholy. But I didn’t get into why she was motivated to help people and get so involved in their lives. Fortunately some of my crit group friends asked why. Ultimately I came up with the fact that she came from a family with smart, competent but bossy, condescending parents and an older brother, who always made her feel small, stupid and helpless. Her motivation is her desire to be capable, independent and respected. It’s tied to her need for identity. Now that she’s on her own, she is both free to follow her instincts, and doesn’t have someone criticizing her and shooting down all her efforts (until the hero challenges her, of course). I laid down this back story from the beginning. Hopefully it is enough to explain her motivation.

    Thanks for the great post. I learned a lot already just from this discussion!

    Posted by Mary Ann Clarke Scott | January 26, 2011, 5:35 pm
    • Mary Ann, your critique partners are a great bunch of people — as long as they’re busy asking why, you’ll never have to worry about forgetting the motivation!

      And if we see instances of how this heroine feels whenever she tries to help someone, which’ll reinforce our awareness of why she’s doing it (even if she doesn’t yet KNOW why she’s doing it) that’ll make things even clearer for the reader. Which is always a good thing…well, unless they get hand-walked through the entire story. 🙂

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | January 26, 2011, 6:48 pm
  31. Hello Laurie!

    Ah, if you only knew how many times I email my CPs about my character’s motivation asking, “Does this sound plausible?” I don’t know why, but I have a tougher time with my heroine’s motivation than the heroes. I need to check out your workshop.

    Posted by Anonymous | January 26, 2011, 6:13 pm
    • Ooh, now it’s gonna be fun seeing who in the workshop turns out to be you. 🙂

      We always introduce ourselves on the first day — which is why I’m actually starting it Sunday, to provide more time for introductions since not everyone gets the message on Day One — and now I’ll be watching to see who says “hi, I’m Anonymous from RomanceUniversity!”

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | January 26, 2011, 6:51 pm
  32. Laurie, as usual your mini lecture made me think (which in my case can be quite painful).

    My characters tend to give me problems daily. They zig when I think they should zag. They behave poorly and expect me to commiserate when they fail miserably. I’ve even had characters show up and try to take over the book.

    In the beginning I tried using logic, you know persuasive communication to get them to change their behaviors – funny how I thought that might work especially since it never worked with my children either.

    Finally, I went into cop mode and started interrogating them. If they could give me a convincing enough motive, one say a DA would file on, it stayed. If not, away it went until they could build a better case and convince me.

    Nothing like making the character do all the really hard work.

    Posted by Margaret Taylor | January 26, 2011, 7:49 pm
    • Margaret, what a great idea to put your cop expertise to work on those tough characters — I’ll bet a lot of ’em started shaping up. 🙂

      And you won’t convince ME that thinking can be painful, not after I’ve watched you in action with your classes…like next month’s master on making law-enforcement characters real. It’s a treat seeing such an experienced pro at work!

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | January 26, 2011, 8:21 pm
  33. Hi, Laurie! I *loved* your motivation class, it was so helpful. Now, every time I’m starting something new, I always go back through all of my notes to make sure I know my characters’ motivations. Sometimes it’s a lot harder than others, especially if I’m trying to make them do something they don’t want to! The MC in my first book starts out as an abused wife on the run. In the early scenes, after your class, I realized that I had her reacting to things the way *I* would, not the way *she* would. Once I got to that realization and spent the time to figure out what she would do and why, everything else clicked.

    Thanks for the great refresher!


    Posted by Chassily Wakefield | January 26, 2011, 8:13 pm
    • Chassily, wow, you nailed something that I’ll bet strikes every author at one time or another — the assumption that of COURSE any reasonable person would react the way we do.

      After all, we think that about our family & friends & neighbors & co-workers…how could they NOT see things the same as us? So when it’s a character of our own creation, that line of thinking is even easier to fall into. Good catch!

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | January 26, 2011, 8:23 pm
  34. Wow, what are the odds? I did a list of everybody who posted today, and then hit the random-number-generator to come up with the winner of a free class. Turns out #17 is Kelsey!

    As far as I’m concerned, it’s TOTALLY fine for the winner to be one of the Romance University staff. But, Kelsey, if it turns out there’s a policy against that, I generated a second-place number just to be on the safe side.

    Let me know if you’d like free registration to “Plotting Via Motivation” starting this weekend, or “Synopsis Tips From Madison Avenue” in August, or if you’d rather donate the prize to a friend…either way, congratulations!

    Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | January 26, 2011, 9:10 pm
    • Oh, Laurie!

      I really do need that Plotting via Motivation class – LOL. How about we do this…why don’t you announce the next person you pulled. If s/he’s not able to take one of the classes then I would love it. But I’d like to give someone else first chance!

      Thanks so much for being here today. I probably won’t catch up on all the comments until tomorrow. You rock, Laurie!


      Posted by KelseyBrowning | January 26, 2011, 10:10 pm
  35. Laurie,

    Motivation has been a major problem for me. I’ve got a character now who is trying to rebuild her life by working at a shelter (a job she feels safe in), but she finds out she isn’t safe there. Now I’m trying to get to her real motivation for wanting to stay in that environment and I haven’t found it yet.

    How early do you have to bring the motivation into the story so it will make sense to the readers?

    Great information, Laurie.


    Posted by Darlene | January 27, 2011, 5:22 am
    • Darlene, bringing motivation into the story is something to aim for even before the story begins — you want to know what’s driving this character, even if they don’t yet know it themselves. As for when THEY should realize it, that can come in stages throughout the book because readers always enjoy moments of realization.

      You remember the techniques for narrowing down motivation, right? Here’s a perfect place to apply ’em to your shelter-stayng heroine…it’ll be fascinating to see what comes up that meets that One Big Requirement!

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | January 27, 2011, 8:44 am
  36. Great post Laurie!! Thanks for posting with us today on RU – we loved having you!


    See ya Sunday!


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | January 27, 2011, 7:47 am
  37. You made particular nice points there. I did a search on the topic and found nearly all people will agree with your weblog.

    Posted by wenwens | September 8, 2011, 1:35 am
    • Isn’t it fascinating, doing a web search and finding what comes up? There probably wouldn’t be 100% agreement on ANYTHING, but it’s interesting to see when opinions from people all over the world tend to coalesce on some issue.

      Although, hmm, maybe when it’s something as basic as “healthy foods and exercise are better for you than hot fudge sundaes” the thrill isn’t quite so great…

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | September 8, 2011, 5:43 am


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Motivology Matters, Harriet Fernandes. Harriet Fernandes said: Plotting via Character Motivation with Laurie Schnebly Campbell … […]

  2. […] But on the way home, one or the other of us would start muttering, “Oh damn…” Laurie Schnebly Campbell taught two workshops on character motivation for the whole day, and it was startling to suddenly […]

Post a comment

Upcoming Posts

  • Dec 15, 2017 Need Social Media Content to Share? Try Hashtags! By Veronica Scott





Follow Us