On Motivation (In Your Characters and Yourself)

Last Saturday, I co-lead a workshop on motivation. 

We chose this topic because while I was in France, I realized that the motivation of my protagonist was weak. Very weak. And damned if that didn’t affect the whole plot, making it saggy in places and utterly not logical in others. Neither of which are good for creating stories that work.

We talked mostly about motivating our characters so that plots don’t sag. But we also talked some about what motivates us as writers and how, once we’ve found that motivation, we can keep tapping into it. I’ll get to that in a minute.

But first I wanted to share a couple of take-aways from the afternoon and a terrific list of motivations we came up with. A few take-aways:

–Motivation can come in layers. You think you have it nailed, and then you realize you need to go deeper. (Thank you, Jenni, for putting this into words. I was dancing around it.)

–There’s two kinds of motivation, external and internal. Think of external motivation as what the character wants (something can cause this, too); and internal as why she wants it.

–A good way to uncover your character’s motivation is to ask why. And keep asking why. This will lead you deeper and deeper.

And now, the list of motivations:

Avoid confrontation

Get out of an abusive marriage

Escape

Find the truth

Money

Fame

Power

Control

Fears

Family Duty

Grief (processing it)

Scientific discovery

Seeking knowledge

Self acutalization

Adventure or thrill seeking

Sex

Love

Avoiding death

Recovery from an illness

Presenting a facade to the world

Survival

Jealousy

Atonement

Creative urge

Mastery

As you can see, this is quite the list! I plan to save it somewhere I’ll have access to it and make additional notes on it. Because, trust me, you will save yourself time and misery if you figure out your character’s motivations ahead of time!

And now, the all-important question–what motivates you to write? That is something only you can answer, but after listening to the group members share their reasons, I can tell you it’s a good thing to ponder.  Ask yourself that question and write about it in your journal. You might be surprised with what comes up!

The other topic that came up often in France was arc. As in, what is it and why do I need it? So that’s the subject of our next workshop in Portland on May 19th. There’s still a couple spaces left if you’re interested. All the details are here. 

What motivates you as a writer? Care to share? Or tell us about your character’s motivation? Leave a comment! Or come on over to the Facebook group and discuss.

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