Laurie Schnebly Campbell is back to give us excellent insight on plotting.
Isn’t character equally important? And setting, and theme, and dialogue, and imagination, and…
Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, and…probably yes to everything else. (Okay, the price of tea in China might NOT be equally important.)
But no matter how good all the other aspects of your book are, you’ve gotta have a plot.
Now, whether you arrive at it through meticulous planning or seat-of-the-pants flying into the mist is totally your call.
Both ways can work beautifully.
The only thing is, sometimes they don’t.
We all know the risks of being TOO much of a plotter, or TOO much of a pantser. Writers who spend all their time drafting outlines can miss the joy of creative inspiration, and writers who spend all their time freewheeling can miss the joy of finishing a cohesive book.
However, nobody is all one or the other. Sometimes we might think “I wish I were better at following wherever the muse leads me” or “I wish I were better at coming up with a credible plot,” but finding the middle ground can be tough.
That’s where motivation comes in. Not our own motivation for writing, but our characters’ motivation for doing whatever they do.
What Motivates Your Characters?
It can be tempting to skate right past that question, just grabbing any old thing that sounds plausible. “Oh, my detective is motivated by wanting revenge on the criminal who killed his wife.” “Oh, my lab researcher is motivated by the dream of finding a lost asteroid.” “Oh, my diner waitress is motivated by her desire to become a celebrity chef.”
They’re giving us the characters’ goal, not their motivation.
Revenge is a goal. Becoming a celebrity chef is a goal. Finding a lost asteroid is a goal.
What should theirs be?
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!)
Now we’ve got something to work with.
Any story is more interesting when the characters have to struggle with not only the external obstacles that keep ’em from achieving their goals, but also the internal obstacles that keep ’em from achieving perfect happiness until the end of the book.
Even if they don’t yet realize it, there’s something — aside from wanting revenge, a chef’s toque, or a lost asteroid — which gets ’em up in the morning ready to start the day.
It’s okay if your character doesn’t yet KNOW what’s driving ’em. In fact, plenty of books start with the character thinking their life will be perfect once they’ve achieved the external goal…only to discover there’s really something else they wanted (and needed) even more.
Which leads to a question:
What goals have you seen characters striving to achieve, whether or not their motivation was clear up front?
If you can think of an example, please share it. (And if we get at least 30 people sharing, somebody will win a prize of free registration to my Plotting Via Motivation class starting March 2 at WriterUniv.com.)
I can’t wait to see what people come up with!
Laurie Schnebly Campbell (BookLaurie.com) grew up in a family that discussed psychology around the dinner table, handy for getting 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 at WriterUniv.com and has written a book for novelists who want to create believable characters with built-in fatal (or not quite fatal) flaws.
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