Whom what, when, where and why. Questions you ask yourself for each book you start. Sometimes the answers are clear as a bell, other times, well you just don’t know where your characters are going or why. And here’s Laurie Schnebly Campbell to help you find out how to answer those questions!
Your characters might think they know where they’re going.
They set out to reach London, and they have a pretty good idea of how long the trip will take. Whether they’re driving themselves or letting someone else do it, they feel confident they’ll reach London around the desired time unless something unexpected happens along the way.
Being a reader as well as a writer, you’re already suspecting something WILL happen…right? Otherwise the characters would get to London just fine, and there wouldn’t be much of a story.
So does that mean every story requires something like a train wreck? (I’ll admit, I’ve used that myself.) Or the unexpected return of a lost love, or an alien invasion, or a secret baby (okay, I’ve used that one too)?
There’s nothing wrong with such things. But they’re sure not the ONLY events that can make a story work.
What makes the biggest difference in how well they work — and in whether you even need them — is:
Who’s Driving the Train
Ideally, that’ll be your characters. Because otherwise, if they’re being driven by circumstances willy-nilly from beginning to end, why would we CARE what happens? If an iron-dragging robot has no volition of its own, and never acquires any, there won’t be much for readers to get excited about.
We’d rather read about robots who decide to move beyond their circumstances.
Your characters might not (yet) realize they’re at the helm of their own story, which is okay at the beginning of a book. They might view themselves as essentially powerless, only to discover — once they start choosing to take action — that’s not the case after all.
Or they might start Chapter One with no doubt they’re in the driver’s seat, since they have total control over their billion-dollar business. (Although perhaps very little over their teenager.)
Either way, what matters is the character’s inner drive.
We’re All Driven by Something
Some people know exactly what’s driving them:
“I’ve gotta be the best chef in Paris.”
“I need to make up for my younger brother’s death.”
“I want my children born outside of slavery.”
“I want the neighbors to like me.”
Others have no idea what it is, but if you asked ‘em “what’s driving you?” they’d come up with some sort of answer. It might be absolutely on target, or it might be part of the truth yet not the whole truth, or it might be wildly off base but the best thing they can come up with at the moment.
It’s okay if your characters aren’t sure how to answer, or if their answer is completely wrong. They don’t need to know what’s REALLY driving ‘em. (At least not yet.)
But you do.
Why? Because that’s what makes ‘em:
The Kind of Person They Are
And the kind of person they are is going to determine how they react to whatever happens in the story. Whether it’s a train wreck, a secret baby, a lost love or an alien invasion, each character is going to respond differently.
Why? Because of what’s been driving them long before Chapter One ever began.
What is it? What do they need, way deep down, to be Okay?
That’s what we call motivation. When you hear about Goal, Motivation & Conflict, motivation is the easiest one to skip past — because far too often, it gets confused with the goal.
“She wants to marry the prince.”
Okay, that’s a perfectly good goal. And what’s her motivation for wanting to marry the prince?
Well, maybe she’d like to live in a castle.
Or she wants him to spare her tribe.
Or her sister the smart one gets all the acclaim.
Or she dreams of gaining votes for women.
Or she’s always fancied a diamond tiara.
You could build a story around any of those desires, but you see what a difference this character’s motivation will make? The story inspired by somebody who wants a diamond will be completely unlike that of somebody who wants to win votes for women.
Neither one is a bad story, but each of those characters who wants to marry a prince will run into different challenges. Which is true even if — and this is a BIG “even if” —
The Prince is the Exact Same Guy
That’s because the greatest challenges, especially in a romance, come not from the external goal but from within the characters themselves.
So how do each of your main characters’ motivations help create a problem?
Some writers know that before they ever begin Chapter One. Some discover it as they’re polishing the final chapter. If you love the method you’re currently using, by all means stick with it.
But if you sometimes feel like your plotting doesn’t go quite as smoothly as you’d like it to, it’s probably because you’re having trouble with consistent, sustained motivation.
And motivation always comes down to who’s driving the train. What’s making your character want what they want, dream of what they dream of, wish for what they wish for?
What’s making ‘em feel like:
“If Only I _____, Then Life Will Be Better”
Sometimes that fill-in-the-blank word is a motivation so close to their goal, it’s hard to tell which one you’re looking at.
Either way, though, you need SOME word to fill in that blank. And since goal and motivation work equally well for getting started, that’s my question for you today.
(Plus, if at least 25 people fill in the blank, one of ‘em will win free registration to “Plotting Via Motivation” from March 6-31 at WriterUniv.com.)
So, the prize-drawing question:
How would one of your characters, either from the work in progress or an earlier one or a story yet to come, fill in the “If only I _____, then life will be better” blank?
I’ll let you know this weekend if you won!
Join us next Monday for Jane Austen as a Literary Influence by Marilyn Brant
BIO: Laurie Schnebly Campbell was amazed when she totaled the number of people who, over the past five years, have credited “Plotting Via Motivation” for their first sale and discovered it was 28. She’s hoping to see that number get bigger this year.
- Braiding Your Story with Laurie Schnebly Campbell
- M is for – Motivation with Laurie Schnebly
- Weekly Lecture Schedule for August 23-27, 2010: Edie Ramer, Laurie London, Tawny Weber & Laurie Schnebly Campbell
- The Tricky Part by Laurie Schnebly Campbell
- How Fatal Should Flaws Be? Laurie Schnebly Campbell