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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Workshop Wednesday - Motivation

I think what I want to do for the next few Workshop Wednesday posts is build upon last week's little Marvel-centric post about character. Because the secret to loveable stories is loveable characters. For the next few Wednesdays, we'll talk about building realistic, relatable characters. Today, let's think about motivation.

In their simplest sense, novels establish and resolve conflicts. Sometimes subtle, non-threatening conflicts, sometimes disastrous ones. Either way, the characters are navigating the crises of the novel with motivations of their own. Each character is driven by some internal or external force. Some forces are expansive - world domination - while some are as simple as the desire to make it through a day without missing an item on the to-do list.

Things to keep in mind:

-- Everyone has more than one motivating force in his or her life. There are long-term motivations, short-term motivations, and complementary, concurrent motivations. A character may dream of running for political office some day - that's the overarching, deeply driving force - but in the meantime, they are motivated to finish school, to acquire an important job, an internship, to make the right sort of social connections, build a resume. None of these smaller, more immediate motivations detract from the larger one, but rather, build toward it.

  In The Lord of the Rings, Frodo and Sam are motivated to get the ring to Mordor, but on a day-to-day basis, finding food is a driving force. Which leads me to the next point...

-- There should be a balance between aspirations and what I think of as mundane motivations. Get that wine stain out of the carpet. Go get that bad guy. Characters don't live in vacuums. Just because something big and threatening is building within the story, their daily lives are not put on hold. They still have to eat and sleep and have conversations with friends over coffee; they still want to catch their favorite show or vent about their bosses.

   I think of Darcy bemoaning the loss of her iPod in Thor. All those awkward, deeply detailed dinners in A Clash of Kings, where Sansa has to eat while she contemplates the ruination of her life and family.

-- Different characters have different motivations. A group of characters can be working toward a central goal, yes, but it's important to keep each character unique. All the players of a piece have love lives, work lives, worries and fears and hopes. Having competing motivations keeps characters uneasy or at odds with one another, which adds interest to the novel.

   In Fearless, Aidan and Ava both want the threat of the Carpathians gone. But Ava is motivated to finish school, to hold herself together, to resist old temptation. While her brother is motivated by pleasing their father, gaining more respect within the club, taking on leadership roles. Same world, same book, same family, and they work in completely different ways.

It's an important question to put to yourself as an author when you set out to write a novel: what motivates my characters? The more diverse, the more realistic, and the better the balance between big and small, the more authentic your character, and therefore story will be.

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