Posted On February 20, 2015 by Print This Post

What’s All This About Plotting? with Laurie Schnebly Campbell

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.

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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.”

But you notice what’s missing from those statements?

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.

Yet what’s driving them to achieve this goal? THAT’s where we get into motivation.

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!)

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?

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.

Whatever that is, that motivation will give your readers something to root for. Because, no matter how much they care about the goal, they’ll care even more if they know what’s driving this person.

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

I can’t wait to see what people come up with!


Laurie’s Bio:

Laurie Schnebly Campbell ( 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 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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98 Responses to “What’s All This About Plotting? with Laurie Schnebly Campbell”

  1. Hey Laurie,
    I’m in your Hero’s Fatal Flaw class. You make an excellent point about the motivation. Until I started taking your workshop I didn’t understand but now I think I do.
    I still hate when people want me to tell them because I know it but can’t get it into words.

    Posted by Kathy Crouch | February 20, 2015, 12:50 am
  2. Excellent point, drawing the distinction between goal (what the character wants) and motivation (why the character wants it). Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between the two as you write. I write contemporary romance laced with humor. Often in comedy, especially romantic, things go awry because the characters labor under certain misapprehensions and delusions, particularly about themselves, and it’s them pursuing the wrong goal and/or acting out of flawed motives that provide the comedy. In my current WIP, the heroine brims with confidence, self-esteem and life-affirming optimism. All good things, but the dark side of that is her pride. The hero is a reporter doing a story that involves her late husband, and she cooperates as a source for the sake of the public record and the benefit of her three sons. The complication comes, of course, when the hero and heroine have to contend with their growing attraction to one another. The heroine finds herself withholding information from the hero out of fear that he will think less of her, and she can’t bear that. Ultimately, she learns humility and comes clean and it’s then that her true courage and nobility shine. I’m still working out the external action, but it will involve some groveling on her part to the hero, who takes a stand at the crisis point and walks away from her and his story. For his part, the hero thinks of himself as the guy who always gets the story. But his ethics and credibility are also important to him, and he ends up killing his own story rather than compromise his ethics and risk losing his credibility. However, he then has to grapple with the realization that maybe what he really wants, for once, is to be the guy who instead of getting the story, gets the girl.

    Posted by Karent | February 20, 2015, 2:43 am
    • Karen, I like your line about how the complication comes when they have to deal with their growing attraction to one another…life would be so much simpler for our characters (well, and so much less exciting for our readers) if it weren’t for those pesky attractions. 🙂 And it sounds like you’ve got the motivation nailed down beautifully; here’s wishing you luck with making the external action work just as well.

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | February 20, 2015, 5:31 am
  3. Hi Laurie,

    When you asked me a few weeks ago what got my hero out of bed every morning, all I could think of was his need to cut the deal, therefor gaining kudos from his boss, company investors, etc. But that was his goal. Now I see – his motivation is to find love – or at least someone who appreciates him for who he really is, not the false façade of a man who can buy elegant dinners, drive hot cars, wear fancy suits, etc. His motivation is to be accepted, only he still thinks he will be accepted for what he can give someone, not for who he really is. For him to learn and grow, he first needs to accept himself and the value he offers others. Thanks for opening my eyes in the early hours before work with this blog. (and thanks for the great workshop on Hero’s Fatal Flaws – it has really helped me figure out my characters and give them more depth.)

    Posted by Debora Noone | February 20, 2015, 5:11 am
    • Deb, I had a moment of panic when reading that his motivation is “to find love” because that’s actually more of a goal — but then at “to be accepted” I almost shouted YAY (if my husband and son weren’t still asleep, drat it). Great realization for starting the morning; way to go!

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | February 20, 2015, 5:35 am
  4. Hi Laurie,
    I have learned so much from your fatal flaws class. My characters are so much more well rounded. I feel better being able to show not just what they did, but why they did something. What is that mysterious driving force that makes them choose the right and sometimes wrong action. Thanks so much.

    Posted by Roz McBane | February 20, 2015, 6:09 am
    • Roz, your description of a mysterious driving force that makes them choose the right and sometimes wrong action is fabulous — it sure COULD be their personality type, but for plotting purposes it’s even better when that’s their motivation. Because while it’s kind of hard for any character (or any real-life person, actually) to change their type, changing motivation is totally feasible and a lot more entertaining to read about. 🙂

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | February 20, 2015, 6:27 am
  5. Laurie, my character is trying to achieve a cooking show victory because the prize money will let her open her own restaurant. She is kind of like your waitress who wants to be a celebrity chef.

    Her first goal is to win and her second is to open the restaurant. Neither of those is her motivation, though.


    Posted by Naomi Phillips | February 20, 2015, 7:13 am
    • Naomi, you’re absolutely right about her goals being different from her motivation — and as long as you know there’s more to her than JUST the desire for a cooking-show win and a restaurant of her own, you won’t need to worry about her coming off as a one-dimensional character!

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | February 20, 2015, 7:22 am
  6. Thank you for a wonderful new way to develop my characters!

    Posted by Nancy Sartor | February 20, 2015, 7:34 am
    • Nancy, you’re welcome! Giving them that motivation means that no matter WHAT their goal is, they’re going to have a reason for pursuing it…quite often a reason they don’t even recognize, until (drat it) it somehow keeps meaning they wind up in trouble along the way. Which isn’t so great for THEM, but sure is for the readers. 🙂

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | February 20, 2015, 7:45 am
  7. Fantastic article and enlightening as always. Thanks so much, Laurie!!

    Posted by Susan Saxx | February 20, 2015, 7:49 am
  8. For our WIP, the goal seems simple: to maintain a marriage intact but the motivation runs much deeper. It’s all about his roots and the dreams from childhood, the white-picket fence. His motivation is to create that for himself because to him, that’s what makes a man. Family, structure, roots.
    I find pleasure in finding complex internal motivations and goals for our characters on top of the external ones.
    Is it possible to develop a good/solid plot based solely on external GMC or that would make for a shallow character/story?

    Posted by Chris Almeida | February 20, 2015, 8:03 am
    • Chris, a good/solid plot based on GMC will work just fine — because while the goal & conflict could very well be completely external, the motivation is always internal!

      It’s only a shallow story if you leave out the motivation altogether…because something like Naomi’s example of “win the contest to become a celebrity chef” isn’t a motivation at all; it’s still a goal.

      Any deep-down motivation, regardless of whether we see it fully explored, is gonna keep characters from seeming like cardboard — although sometimes in mystery thrillers, readers don’t CARE about that so those writers are off the hook!

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | February 20, 2015, 8:17 am
  9. Hi, Laurie. This is something I continue to struggle with, but here goes. In my WIP, my hero is motivated by guilt over failing to save his little sister. His goal is to take care of the people he loves. At least I think that’s right. 🙂

    Posted by Stephanie Berget | February 20, 2015, 8:47 am
    • Steph, try thinking of his motivation as something that’s been with him throughout his life…something that’d be there whether or not he managed to save his little sister. His goal makes sense in light of that, but has he ALWAYS wanted to take care of people he loves? If so, that’s edging toward motivation, which is great!

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | February 20, 2015, 9:02 am
  10. This is a really fascinating post, and one I’ve never seen before! For my current short story, set in the early 60s, I’ve got a widower trying to avoid his attractive neighbor who’s shown interest in him. Behind this, he is motivated by grief for his late wife and guilt in moving on. I definitely agree about motivations often being faulty, and/or areas that need growth in characters. Thanks for the read!

    Posted by G.G. Andrew | February 20, 2015, 9:09 am
    • GG, I love the motivation of replacing grief by moving on yet feeling guilty about it — that’s SO understandable! And what’s especially cool, although tough in a short story, is if the widower doesn’t realize at the beginning how he’s working against his own best interests, because it’ll the turnaround even more fabulous when he does.

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | February 20, 2015, 9:44 am
  11. Love trying to figure out motivations. I love Shannon McKenna’s stories–her heroes all have great goals (save the girl, catch the killer, clear their brother’s name, etc.), but their motivations are based on their dad being a lunatic survivalist, and they’re either trying to prove they’re not crazy like him, or that he was wrong about them and they are competent (let’s just say he was a negative motivator), and, overall, that they hope they can have a health relationship with a woman.

    Posted by Rowan Worth | February 20, 2015, 9:17 am
    • Rowan, those are great examples of how a strong goal combined with a strong motivation can make the story a whole lot richer and more exciting than if either element were standing alone. We’ve all seen books that LET one or the other stand alone, but the ones you’re talking about are a wonderful blend of both!

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | February 20, 2015, 9:46 am
  12. Hi Laurie – thank you for the excellent, thought provoking post. In my WIP my protagonist struggles to recoup her business losses/reputation from two public mishaps followed by a homicide she is inadvertently tied to. Her goal is to clear her name. Her motivation is revealed early on in her love life is in as great a shambles as her business. There is a simmering attraction between my protag and the handsome grounded homicide lieutenant. Many plot points to still work through but the external/internal is taking shape. Thanks you again.

    Posted by Chrissie Roach | February 20, 2015, 9:20 am
    • Chrissie, good for you on figuring out such a clear, strong goal — I’m not quite grasping how her motivation is driving her toward that goal, but I’ll bet in reading the story it’ll make perfect sense. And it’ll be a kick to see what happens with the homicide lieutenant… 🙂

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | February 20, 2015, 9:49 am
  13. In my own WIP, my hero is trying to find out who has been stealing from the family construction company…but what motivates him is proving to his uncle/family that he can do this on his own successfully because he’s the goofy/clown type that doesn’t take much seriously and has just screwed up big time in a fling that made his uncle misjudge him, and he is trying to make amends and regain his respect.

    Posted by Rowan Worth | February 20, 2015, 9:21 am
  14. Hi Laurie! I do love these little “classes.”

    I’m in the middle of the first draft of my WIP (which I have not plotted). My character inherited a house from her grandmother that was originally supposed to go to her cousin. He’s fighting the will and she’s determined to keep the house from him (even after she discovers the ghost in the house has the ability to possess her). Her wanting to keep the house is her goal, right? So then I had to think why?? Well, I had it right there in the book and didn’t realize it until now (something I will have to enhance when I go through edits): she mistakenly believes her cousin took advantage of her when she was younger—therefore, feels he doesn’t deserve the house. So, that would be her motivation, right?

    Posted by Stacy McKitrick | February 20, 2015, 9:27 am
    • Stacy, believing her cousin doesn’t deserve the house is a motivation for that one goal…but I’ll bet she has some OTHER motivation (maybe connected to the issue of deserving) that drives her even if cousin had been killed by a tornado eight years ago. THAT’s where the real excitement comes from, is seeing her discover her way-deep-down drive — even if the readers know it before she does!

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | February 20, 2015, 10:02 am
  15. Hi Laurie,

    I have enjoyed participating in your Fatal Flaws class. I’m narrowing in on their different personalities and quirks. When I added the word BECAUSE to their goals, it helped me figure out their motivation. (Visual learner here 🙂

    Posted by BC Heines | February 20, 2015, 9:35 am
  16. Hi Laurie, loved your FF class. Thank you. I know that goal and motivation is different, I just DON’T always have that distinction clear, so when I read it again this morning, I panicked. Before coffee no less.

    But once I calmed down, I realized that while my Hermann my treasure hunter always wants to find the unifiable, it’s because (isn’t that a motivational word) he has always needed the approval of his father, who died many years ago in an expedition. Hermann is still driven by that emotion.

    Still not sure that is right, but now I’m going to think about it all day. Thanks Laurie 🙂

    Posted by L.A. Sartor | February 20, 2015, 9:50 am
    • LA, you’re right on target in recognizing Hermann needs to be driven by something other than JUST the desire for his goal. Winning Dad’s approval represents something bigger for him, and ideally it’s been driving him throughout his life. Try thinking about what would happen if Dad magically appeared from heaven with a sign saying “you’re swell, Hermann” — what would get him up in the mornings THEN?

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | February 20, 2015, 10:05 am
      • I knew the minute I wrote “his father” that it was not quite right. I think motivation is hard. On the GMC scale Goal is the easiest and I love it when it morphs a bit in the book. Motivation AARRGH and Conflict is becoming a bit easier because of the FF class.

        Still thinking about Hermann.

        Posted by L.A. Sartor | February 20, 2015, 11:07 am
        • Well, heck, every writer comes up against a different set of hard things. For some it’s action, for some it’s dialogue, for some it’s motivation, for some it’s conflict — but nobody (okay, we can ALL thing of exceptions) gets every element right from the start!

          Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | February 20, 2015, 11:16 am
        • Motivation is the why, the because, right? Then is it safe to say that some emotion is the motivation? I don’t simply mean love, hate, but greed, security, etc.

          Right track or off track?

          Posted by L.A. Sartor | February 20, 2015, 12:04 pm
          • Actually, the motivation doesn’t need to be an emotion — there’s often some emotion involved with it because it’s some deep-seated need, but you know Maslow’s hierarchy? There are plenty of motivations on there which aren’t emotional at all! (But we’ll get into that more during class.)

            Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | February 20, 2015, 12:39 pm
  17. Hi Laurie, thank you for this blog post. Perfect timing as I was starting a new book so I could use the information from the get go. It has really helped to round out the characters. And read your post has helped me dig deeper into their motivations.
    Thanks again.

    Posted by Terri Reed | February 20, 2015, 10:20 am
  18. Hi Laurie, I’m not sure I’m going to get this right since I typically give my characters goals rather than motivations…so I clearly need your class in 10 days.

    I know motivation should be something internal, intangible–so a character may *want* respect or acceptance, and their GOAL is a way of achieving those things in his mind.

    My current hero–he’s all about keeping things under control. I’m guessing then his motive is CONTROL.

    Let’s see…Harry Potter–I would imagine Voldemort’s motivation is not to be powerless, to be the exact opposite of powerless, since he was unable to control his childhood and how he was raised. He would never be that helpless or “unnecessary”/forgettable again.

    Harry’s motivation is not to be like Voldemort, not to give into the dark side, no matter what because it killed his parents. So everything he does, he does to defeat the dark side.

    Posted by Fran Colley | February 20, 2015, 10:22 am
    • Fran, good job on digging into Harry’s and Voldemort’s motivations — that’s a great way of figuring out how such things operate! The way you can tell when someone’s motivation is really strong is by imagining that some other main character never existed…would this person STILL be operating under the same motivation?

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | February 20, 2015, 10:43 am
  19. What’s motivating my character? Good question. Pain. He feels if he acheives his goal, he’ll obtain peace and happiness (two more goals…I think).

    Did I do this right? Your class sounds awesome.

    Posted by Mercy | February 20, 2015, 10:33 am
    • Mercy, actually it sounds like this guy is motivated by the desire for peace and happiness — his goal is to avoid pain, and (at least during this book) some specific kind of pain. He probably has an external goal that he THINKS will help him achieve that, but might not even realize what’s way deep down at the root of his desire…and that’s what a story cool!

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | February 20, 2015, 10:44 am
  20. My heroine wants to solve a murder so she can leave, simply disappear and remain anonymous. The hero believes she wants to do so because she is guilty of something. That is how she presents it. But, her real motivation is self-preservation. Every time she has tried to reach for more than “just enough” life has hammered her down in the worst possible way.

    “Nobody cares what they say about me,” he shouted. “I care what they say about you, Sarafina.” He lifted his hand to stroke the backs of his fingers down her cheek. “I want to put my fist through their faces for what they’ve done to you. You’re worth it.”

    The floor fell away from her feet. The walls disappeared Everything drew back into the shadows until there was only him and the fury on her behalf that hummed through his body and into her skin where he touched her.

    “Then that is enough, Cain.” She took his hand, now curled into a fist at his side, and unfurled it to press a lingering kiss into his palm. “Come back inside,” she whispered and tugged him toward the morning room.

    He looked at the front door and then back at her, unmoving. “When will you believe you deserve more than a mere enough?”

    “Not today.”

    Posted by LouisaCornell | February 20, 2015, 12:06 pm
  21. I am also in you Hero’s Fatal Flaw workshop and I have learned many things while doing it.
    I have always been a pantser but your class has led me to actually stop and plot the rest of my script which is now three quarters finished.
    My characters are all much richer in motivation and both internal and external goals.

    Posted by Evelyn Lyn | February 20, 2015, 12:10 pm
    • Lyn, good for you on being able to work BOTH sides of the plotting-pantsing aisle…it’s always handy to have tools that let you operate from whichever side will be more productive for any given task. And I’m so glad about your richer characters…the viewers will be too. 🙂

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | February 20, 2015, 12:32 pm
  22. Thanks for a fabulous post, Laurie! The comments have all been really helpful, too.

    I’m a pantser, for better or worse. I have plotted some stories in advance – and those are the stories I got bored with and are stuck at under 50K. The stories I wrote by the seat of my pants – the NaNoWriMo stories, for example – have been “completed” but are in no way finished, polished, publishable. My process has been to write to the end and then go back and rewrite/revise a gazillion times. Yeah, as a process goes, it could use some improvement.

    In the story that’s currently driving me insane, the heroine’s goal is to find her family. There are things about herself she doesn’t understand and she believes finding her family will resolve these issues.

    The hero knows all about her family – has known all along – and has done his best to keep her away from them, for her own safety. His goal is to protect the heroine – he cares about her but has no hope of her reciprocating.

    If she reaches her goal, he knows she’ll hate him for keeping information from her.

    Her motivation is to make a family connection so she doesn’t feel outcast and alone. His motivation is to keep her safe, no matter what.

    In her case, it’s one of those “be careful what you wish for” things.

    I’m not sure if that’s sufficient motivation – I’ve revised this more times than I can count, but I’m still not happy with it.

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | February 20, 2015, 12:14 pm
  23. Laurie – This comment came to RU by email. I don’t think anyone has shared it yet:

    Hi Laurie, thank you for this blog post. Perfect timing as I was starting a new book so I could use the information from the get go. It has really helped to round out the characters. And read your post has helped me dig deeper into their motivations.
    Thanks again.

    Terri Reed

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | February 20, 2015, 12:17 pm
  24. Hi Laurie, great post. You’re right, thinking about motivation is tough. I thought I’d use an example from my favorite TV show, The Blacklist.
    Raymond Reddington is one of the FBI’s most wanted, and yet he turned himself over to them. Why? His goal is to collaborate only with Agent Keen to take down other criminals. I think his motivation is to develop a relationship with her, and to protect her from events outside his control ( I think she is his daughter)

    Love, love the characterizations within this program.
    Looking forward to another class with you, you always make me think, lol

    Posted by Jacquie Biggar | February 20, 2015, 12:50 pm
    • Jacquie, now you’ve got me wanting to watch The Blacklist — that sounds like a great show! I’ll bet it’s been fun watching his motivation slowly reveal itself, because even if HE knows it the viewers probably don’t yet. (Although being a writer, you have a better idea of what the show writer is trying to keep secret than the average viewer does.)

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | February 20, 2015, 1:06 pm
  25. Laurie, as soon as my first book is published you’re the first person I’m thanking in the credits! I have just finished the “Fatal Flaw” class and the Enneagram tool literally saved my YA manuscript from tepid mediocrity. My heroine will be a much more interesting character now — a thousand thank-yous! I’m already signed up for the “Plotting via Motivation” class and I’m (gulp) plotting a new book during this class. I’m scared, but totally confident in your abilities to lead me through the darkness and into the light. What an awesome teacher you are, mon amie!

    Posted by Kathy M. | February 20, 2015, 12:51 pm
    • Kathy, wow, I’m delighted and honored at being named in the credits — there’s a special area of my bookshelf reserved for books like yours! And putting what you’ve just learned about fatal flaws to work on another story next month will be a wonderful one-two punch…you’re really on a roll!

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | February 20, 2015, 1:07 pm
  26. Great article, Laurie! It goes well with what we learned in your Creating Your Hero’s Fatal Flaw class, which was awesome!!!

    Posted by Cheryl | February 20, 2015, 1:27 pm
    • Cheryl, isn’t it amazing how all the ingredients for plausible characters tie in together? Sometimes when I give a workshop at a conference I ask the keynote speakers if I can use characters from their latest release to illustrate certain types, and even those who don’t (yet) know about enneagrams inevitably have somebody who’ll fit!

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | February 20, 2015, 2:10 pm
  27. Hi Laurie!

    I just finihsed reading a couple of different mysteries. One was a Jane Austen mystery and was lovely, of course. Her goal was to seek out the truth by understanding what was going on between all of the players. The other mystery was a little more difficult. The investigator was hired, so he sought answers, but he seemed pretty deep and disturbed as a person, in genearl. I think his goal was to try to do the right thing with what he had to work with (his personal skills), and to avoid discovering the negatives about himself which broke up his relationship with his girlfriend and ruined his relationship with his father. I might have analyzed taht oo much. Interesting stuff, though.

    Thanks for the blog – wonderful as usual!

    Posted by Charlotte | February 20, 2015, 1:39 pm
  28. Laurie, I start developing sotry ideas with character GMC as much as the character’s personality. Although personality does give me insights into GMC. I use your emmeagrams method, astrology, and just plain mulling about the characters to create them.

    As for your question, that’s tough. In the books I read and shows I watch, motivation is fairly clear early on. Huh. I need to ponder that.


    Posted by Nancy Haddock | February 20, 2015, 2:07 pm
    • Nancy, there’s nothing wrong with characters whose motivation is pretty clear right from the start — the story can have all kinds of OTHER intriguing elements besides “what’s driving this person?” Especially in mysteries, where any kind of character personality is pretty much optional, the more you add the more you’ll delight readers who want both elements in a story!

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | February 20, 2015, 2:16 pm
  29. Ooh! Important distinction between motivation and goal. How can we tell the difference? I read above that to find love is a goal but to be accepted is a motivation.

    Have you already posted in your replies a way to recognize the difference? Off to look…

    Posted by Giulia | February 20, 2015, 4:49 pm
  30. I loved the Plotting via Motivation class. Without it, I would never have known that what gets my heroine up in the morning is that she has to take care of her family and friends, because no one can do it as well as she can. Which is why she can’t let the big bad (and handsome) realtor take away her family’s business.

    Or that what gets my hero up in the morning is that each day is another chance to prove to everyone–but especially to himself–that he’s just as good as the wealthy people he does business with. Which is why he has to get the heroine’s family business for his client.

    I’m still working on the story, but Laurie, that little bit of knowledge was like a key unlocking the door to my plot. Those of you about to take the class for the first time, get ready to learn SO much.

    Posted by Linda Fletcher | February 20, 2015, 4:52 pm
    • Linda, it’s such fun seeing those two characters again! And I like your description of the key unlocking the door to your plot; that’s a lovely visual image. (Which you know is something I’m NOT good at.) But as for what gets characters up in the morning; yep…it’s hard to beat that for a handy tool. 🙂

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | February 20, 2015, 5:07 pm
  31. Loved your Fatal Flaws class. Am sad that it is over. As for the question above, it made me think of Downton Abbey. What is Lady Mary’s motivation? Her goal was to learn about Lord Gillingham. Once she did, she turned him down. Also, what motivates her to be so nasty to her sister Edith? If her goal is to put her down, then she is very successful. I have been trying to figure out her’s ad the other characters Ennegrams.


    Posted by Katherine | February 20, 2015, 5:36 pm
    • Katherine, I wish I watched Downton Abbey — everybody who’s said they love it is someone whose taste I respect. But with or without bringing enneagram types into it, the question of what motivates each character is STILL a good one to ask about any show where you really get to know the people!

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | February 20, 2015, 5:50 pm
  32. Hi Laurie,

    Although I didn’t participate (observer mode):-) all that much, I thoroughly enjoyed your Fatal Flaw class. I was able to understand it more clearly how it all works this second time around.

    Laurie, you are an awesome teacher/speaker. Your classes/workshops are all so worthwhile taking.

    Thank you,

    Posted by Molly Sherrod | February 20, 2015, 5:43 pm
    • Molly, thank you! Not only for the endorsement, although I very much appreciate that 🙂 , but also for being the 30th person to post a comment which means now there’ll be a free-class giveaway. And what better introduction to a free class than hearing it’ll be awesome & worthwhile?

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | February 20, 2015, 5:53 pm
  33. Laurie,

    This is so helpful. So many wonderful ideas to put into practice. And concrete ways to make my writing more engaging to the reader.

    Thank you!


    Posted by Nan McNamara | February 20, 2015, 7:30 pm
  34. I think mostly I see the trying to right a wrong/make amends character motivation in the majority of thing I’ve read lately. I think it’s inherent in all of us to seek atonement and to spare others the trials and tribulations we’ve experienced. It’s funny, I never really gave these things much thought prior to taking your plotting class. Now, I am always trying to discover those complexities that really make a character life like. Whether (s)he’s focus of the story is the motivating factor or if it just helps explains their actions, it is important to know what drives them to act and react the way they do. I don’t think I would have ever thought to delve that deep without your class Laurie. As a pantser with ADHD I am pretty scattered when it pertains to writing and I never thought I’d ever be able to handle the constrictions of plotting, but you and your course showed me that there is a middle ground where I could happily coexist and I will always be thankful for that. I can honestly say your workshops were the best investment I’ve ever made,

    Posted by Margie Hall | February 20, 2015, 8:06 pm
  35. Shoot, I can’t stay awake any longer but I hate to leave late posters out of the drawing…so I’ll check back for any other comments tomorrow morning and let random-org pick a winner then!

    Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | February 20, 2015, 8:07 pm
  36. Laurie, I always find your posts informative and enlightening.

    In light of your question, I looked at the heroine of my current WIP, a fantasy.

    My heroine finds her grandmother murdered. Her goal is revenge, but her motivation is really all about the family. Her grandmother was her only living relative and my heroine is an outcast because of her magic.She has written off any chance of having a family. Not surprisingly, family is the overarching goal for the trilogy.

    It’s always good to take a minute and dig a little deeper.



    Posted by Talia Pente | February 20, 2015, 8:26 pm
  37. Evening Laurie…sorry I’m so late!

    I’m a HUGE fan of your plotting via motivation class….planning on signing up for it again this year. I struggle trying to find the character’s motivation, but YOU help me make it clear…

    Excellent class, above excellent instructor!



    Posted by Carrie Spencer | February 20, 2015, 10:53 pm
    • Carrie, what wonderful news — it’ll be a treat seeing you in class, because you always bring in the most entertaining characters! Can’t wait to see what kind of story you’ll be creating; I keep thinking “Carrie CAN’T do something as good this time around” and yet somehow you always do. 🙂

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | February 21, 2015, 9:09 am
  38. Hi Laurie,
    My hero lost his parents when he was a child and has always wanted a family of his own when he grew up. But he built a wall around his heart because he thought he couldn’t bear to lose someone he loved ever again.
    When he makes a deal with a Bounty Hunter to return him to Earth (years later) he mistakenly believes his happiness lies on Earth, which is his motivation to return, but once back on Earth, he discovers his happiness lies with the Bounty Hunter (home is where the heart is).

    Posted by Ester Lopez | February 21, 2015, 12:07 am
    • Ester, I like how you wrapped up his turnaround in a pithy phrase…that can be tremendously helpful when writing the story, because you already have a theme in mind. Usually I get bored during literary lectures about themes, but when it’s something that can be summed up in a phrase as clean and simple as “home is where the heart is” it works beautifully!

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | February 21, 2015, 9:11 am
  39. Okay, with 34 people posting before midnight I fed random-dot-org the assignment of 1-34, and it came up with #19 which is (drum roll) Louisa.

    Congratulations, Louisa, and when you register for the Plotting Via Motivation class (at WriterUniv dot com) don’t pay because you’ll be flagged as the winner. 🙂

    And if anyone else would like to be there, just visit WriterUniv dot com and I’ll see you March 2-27 — with lots of individual feedback on YOUR story!

    Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | February 21, 2015, 9:16 am
  40. Here is the motivation of one of the characters in the novel I’m currently writing.

    Andrew was a teenage druggie. He lived on the street with his best friend Amber. She became pregnant, although neither of them could remember how that happened. Andrew helped her stay clean through the pregnancy, staying clean himself so he could focus on Amber and the baby. She had a little boy, Josh. Andrew felt responsible for the child and for Amber, so he found a way to go back to school and turn his life around. When Josh was two, Amber died of a drug overdose. Although Andrew desperately wanted to care for the child, he watched helplessly as Josh was taken by child protective services and placed in foster care. Andrew finished school and became a physicians assistant, eventually going to work for a hospice facility and volunteering as a school nurse at the elementary school Josh attended. Now he just needed to find that special person so he could finally give Josh the stable home Andrew never had.

    His motivation is Josh. Secondary motivations include moving beyond his past; doing something to honor Amber; and finding meaning in his life through a stable bond with another.

    This is a gay romance, by the way. The “other” is a male character who has his own motivations.

    Posted by Roy Bartels | February 21, 2015, 9:36 am
    • Roy, if Josh had gotten killed by lightning or adopted by a kind-happy-loving family, would Andrew still be driven to honor Amber and achieve a stable life? If so, that’s a fabulous clue to his motivation…which he might’ve been craving even during his druggie days.

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | February 21, 2015, 11:40 am
  41. Loved Plot Via Motivation!! Really helped me get a story plotted out and I suck at plotting.

    In my current story my heroine’s goal is to convince her school to make her temp teaching job permanent and my hero’s goal is to find a stepmother for his daughter while avoiding falling in love.

    Posted by Carol Opalinski | February 21, 2015, 6:05 pm
  42. Why is it easier to come up with the goals your characters wants rather than the motivation that drives them? I’ve been running after this elusive motivational animal for a long time now. I’m currently writing a summer novella set in the early 1900s. The hero has returned home to help his folks with the summer farming. They want him to quit his teaching job several counties away and take over the farm. The heroine wants to become a doctor, but her father insists she take a teaching course and plan on marriage. She’s come to her grandma’s home for the summer to get away from her domineering father. The h/h meet and don’t want to be fall for each other. Would their motivation for their educational goals be enough to keep them from falling for each other? Or is his and her motivation found in something deeper?

    Posted by Carol Malone | February 22, 2015, 11:20 pm
    • Carol, you remember the Magic Question from Plotting Via Motivation, right? Try using that on your characters, starting before they ever set those particular goals. It doesn’t mean their goals need to change, just that you’ll get a clearer idea of what’s really driving them both!

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | February 23, 2015, 8:17 am
  43. Hi Laurie,
    Sorry i couldn’t finish your class. I had sinusitis. I loved this post and will get through the lessons when I can.

    Posted by Denise | February 23, 2015, 4:00 pm
  44. Denise, I’m sorry about your sinusitis — no fun! Just make sure you grab the February fatal-flaw class lessons before March 1, because the loop moderator said everything goes down as of Saturday night. 🙂

    Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | February 23, 2015, 4:38 pm


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