Motivation. It comes in all shapes, sizes, and flavors. I enjoy at least two cups of hot, creamy motivation in my coffee mug every morning without fail. In the afternoon, motivation presents itself as a green carbonated beverage in an aluminum can. (Yes, I know, bad habit. I’m slapping my hand right now.) And sometimes, in the evening, motivation shows up in the form of something chocolate (I’m starting to see an unhealthy pattern here….).
Like the author, stories need motivation too. Without it, you have nothing but words on paper—or computer screen. A car with a full tank of gas but no destination. Motivation is vital to a story. What do the character want in life? What are they trying to accomplish? These questions must be answered for the reader as soon in the story as possible. Skip the beautiful setting descriptions and all the lovey feelings the characters are having. You can add these later. Get straight to the point.
Why? From the moment Adam and Eve disobeyed God, humans have had conflict. Our lives are full of challenges, heartaches, and struggles. Our lives are also full of hopes and dreams. The same should be for your characters. They need to bleed red like the rest of us. Give them a story goal—what are they trying to accomplish at the beginning of the story?—and motivation—why is meeting that goal important to them? What’s happened in their past (long ago or recent) that’s driving them to meet that story goal?
How? Once you decide on a story goal, ask why it’s important to the character and write it down (you may need to refer to it later). Once that question is answered, ask why again (and write it down…you get the idea). Keep asking why until you can’t ask anymore—until you’ve dug into the character so deeply they’re raw. Sounds morbid, sorry. Using this method will help you create a backstory for your characters and help you bring them to life.
Do this for all characters who are vital to the story. In a romance, it’ll be the hero and heroine. In a suspense or thriller, the bad guy (or lady) needs dissected too. If you reach a stopping point before you’ve asked why at least a dozen times, then you probably need a new story goal.
- Keep in mind that your characters goals and motivations can change throughout the story as they grow. They won’t always, but they can.
So the next time you’re tempted to begin a story that takes the reader on a beautiful ride through a perfect neighborhood in a perfect world on a perfect day, put on the brakes. Map out the story goal, grab a travel mug of motivation, shut up, and drive.
~photo courtesty of digidreamgrafix/freedigitalphotos.net