Storytelling Part 1: Motivation
January 24, 2013 6 Comments
Her captor, a tall, leggy woman in spandex tauntingly caulked her gun and said with a smile, “Because you destroyed my one chance of being the greatest runner in the world. Because you stole my gold medal. And now, you will pay.”
Really? Never mind whether this is good storytelling or not… is it at all realistic? Would someone really murder their sports competitor? Doubtful. Would you be driven to threaten someone who bested you at an event? I truly hope not.
When it comes to writing and developing characters, you need always to keep one word in mind: motivation.
Motivation is helpful in two fronts. Motivation:
a) defines characters, and
b) pushes the story along
Think about it. In order for the beautiful harmonizing of a solid story and lovable characters to occur, several things must happen, but the main thing is motivation.
Think Lord of the Rings. Not only is the story itself driven by the motivation to destroy the ring, but the characters are defined so clearly because of that motivation.
Think Finding Nemo. The title itself is the motivation behind the story and the characters.
Motivation is nearly everything in a story. Why am I writing this? Why is the bad guy bad? Why did my protagonist just do that?
But the catch is, the motivation must be believable. Now, this is where it gets a little subjective. Certain members of my household like the show Once Upon a Time. I don’t. (Though I do recommend it as clean and safe family viewing.) And the sole reason is because the motivations behind the characters is, to me, completely unbelievable.
The Queen wants to curse the whole fairy tale world because Snow White got her prince? That’s like saying the girl whom you detested in high school got married before you, therefore you’re going to go on a shooting rampage at the mall.
Folks, writers – don’t make your characters bad just to be bad. Don’t dwell on it, but give your readers a reason why they’re bad. The Toy Story franchise does this best with their antagonists (need I say more than Lotso/Daisy?).
Likewise, give your readers a reason to believe that your protagonists really are good, and ask yourself the question: Why is my protagonist good?
Another trick: To help keep your story on track, ask yourself at the end of each scene, Why? Why did this scene just happen? Why did my character just say/do that? You ought to be able to answer confidently with the ending in mind so that you’re always heading in that direction.
When I wrote The Man in the Box, I was always prepared to answer someone who might ask me, “Why did you write this book?”
You should be too.
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