WHY MOTIVATION MATTERS
by Laurie Schnebly Campbell
You already know that, no matter what kind of plot you’re building, it’s gotta be motivated by your characters in order to feel plausible. It doesn’t matter whether you’re doing an emotional plot or an action plot or both — what makes it work is the characters.
So what IS it that makes your characters do what they do? Or another way of asking that is, what makes anybody do what they do?
There are all kinds of theories of motivation, and they all boil down to the same thing.
We want to be Okay.
Whatever it takes to be okay, that’s what motivates us.
Maslow talked about that, saying that to be Okay we first need Food and Water…yep, okay…Shelter…got it…then Safety…and in most books, those issues are pretty well taken care of. Sometimes you’ll get characters fleeing the murderer in the North Woods or laid off from the factory job, but food isn’t usually a driving motivation.
So we get into the next level of what people need to be Okay, which is Belonging / Acceptance / Love. Then there’s Respect of Others and Self-Respect, and finally there’s the drive to Be All You Can Be. Everywhere along that continuum, you’ve got some great motivators.
And that matters, because it’s the motivation that makes a character interesting.
Some writers start with the motivation: “let’s see, a woman who’s motivated by the desire for adventure would be THIS type of person.” Other writers start with the character: “my heroine wants to sail to Jamaica, so that must mean she’s motivated by adventure.”
Either way works fine. And either way leaves you totally free to write any kind of story you want.
Say, given this heroine who wants to sail to Jamaica in search of adventure, could your story be full of soul-deep emotion? Absolutely. Dizzying suspense? Yep. Heartwarming faith? Yep. Quirky humor? Yep. Spine-tingling terror? Yep.
It all depends on how you write it.
So in that case, why does the heroine’s motivation even matter?
Because it’s what makes her credible. Same as we can’t have pink-elephant aliens showing up in some 14th-century castle without sacrificing a bit of credibility, neither can we have this woman sailing off to Jamaica without SOME plausible motivation.
And that’s where it’s easy for us authors to fall down on the job. We love this heroine who’s rigging out her sailboat, we love that she’s going to Jamaica, and we know that on the way she’ll meet this incredibly witty sailor, there’ll be a pirate attack — oh, and the pirate ship will have a yellow parrot named Sidney! — it’s all taking shape. We KNOW it’ll work, because we can SEE this story.
But it’s that dazzling clarity which can get us into trouble. Because our readers weren’t IN on this first glorious flash of inspiration. They can’t see that wonderful vision. All they see is a heroine rigging out her sailboat for a trip to Jamaica, and they have no idea why she’s doing it.
Unless the readers GET her desire for adventure, they’re gonna feel out of the loop. They might not know why the story isn’t working for them, but they’re missing her motivation.
And motivation is what makes a book memorable.
For some writers, it comes so naturally that they never even question how their characters’ motivation will feed into the plot. (Which sometimes leaves them at loose ends, wondering what on earth can HAPPEN during their plot.)
For others, it’s more of a tack-on because their strength is in plotting. (Which sometimes leaves them wondering how to explain WHY this character did something that seems senseless but is actually integral to the plot.)
Either way, motivation is vital. And yet we’ve all found ourselves in trouble with motivation every now and then. So that’s my question for you:
When was the last time you found yourself dealing with a problem character? Who was this person? What did he or she do? How did you resolve the situation?
Everybody here will be able to sympathize with such a situation, because pesky characters strike EVERY writer! And if 25 people post today, one of ’em will win help for all their future characters,with free registration to my “Plotting Via Motivation” class (at WriterUniv.com) next month.
Meanwhile, I can’t wait to see those pesky characters on parade — because it’s always a lot more fun to read about other people’s problems than to focus on our own. :)
Laurie, hoping today will be slow at work so I can check email sooner than lunchtime…but don’t worry if it takes a while to hear back; I’m definitely checking in!
Black Moments: Make Them Earn Their Happily Ever After
In our morning workshop, we will study “black moments” in well-known fiction and films, and then study your story ideas to craft a black moment that has your readers turning pages and holding their breath, hoping the heroes will earn that happily ever after. This will be a hands-on presentation with lively discussion and feedback on your work in progress or maybe a finished work that needs more impact at the end.
Online Author Promotion for the Digital Age
In the afternoon, we’ll be discussing new ways to find your readership and build your author brand. Facebook events, online street teams, author virtual assistants vs. publicists, and utilizing author newsletters will all be discussed and we’ll touch on reader interactions and take questions.
Lisa Kessler is an Amazon Best Selling author of dark paranormal fiction. Her debut novel, Night Walker, won a San Diego Book Award for Best Published Fantasy-Sci-fi-Horror as well as the Romance Through the Ages Award for Best Paranormal and Best First Book. She currently writes the Night Series and Moon Series for Entangled Publishing.
Lisa’s short stories have been published in print anthologies and magazines, and her vampire story, Immortal Beloved, was a finalist for a Bram Stoker award.
When she’s not writing, Lisa is a professional vocalist and has performed with San Diego Opera as well as other musical theater companies in San Diego.
You can learn more at Lisa’s Lair
Meeting fee of $25 members, $30 guests and walk-ins includes lunch selected from a menu of three items during Saturday morning check-in. SPACE MAY BE LIMITED. Walk-ins are welcome, but whenever possible, please guarantee your spot by reserving on our payments page or by emailing reservations@tucsonRWA.org no later than 8 am Wednesday before the meeting .
LUNCH ORDERS ARE COLLECTED AT 10am. If you plan to be late, contact reservations@tucsonRWA.org so we will be prepared to order on your behalf.
This event takes place at our regular venue, the Clarion Hotel, 4550 S. Palo Verde Rd., Tucson & will include a chapter business meeting.
I’ve heard several agents and editors say they are looking for diverse stories, multicultural stories, and always some of the authors around me, who are predominately white, shrink just a little.
I think most of us want to have diverse characters in our books, but we are wary of using offensive stereotypes or of stepping outside our comfort zones.
I hope this TED talk inspires you to expand your cast of characters.
NOTE: This extended workshop takes place at the Visount Hotel (4855 East Broadway) from 9am-3pm. Cost is $45 members, $55 nonmembers. (See below.)
Do most of your stories start with a bang and end with a whimper? Do you have drafts with squishy middles and no “The End” in sight? Nancy Ellen Dodd is here to help with her workshop, The Five Keys to Finishing Your Story.
This interactive workshop will explain the basic concepts of story mapping and how to take your work to the next level. It will help you recognize:
- Where you are in the story development,
- Which voice to write in,
- How to punch up your characters,
- How to know where your story should begin,
- What you need to finish your story.
Nancy will talk to writers in-depth on story writing elements and how to apply them more effectively to their individual work.
What You Will Learn:
Two individuals will be chosen to bring up to three (3) basic story problems they need to solve in order to finish their novel, short story, or screenplay.
Nancy will talk about ways to answer story problems. She will also give the two individuals feedback on their pages in a way that will enable the whole class to learn from the process.
About The Writers Compass:
Ms. Dodd teaches advanced screenwriting at Pepperdine University, and wrote “The Writer’s Compass: From Storymap to Finished Draft in 7 Stages.” This workshop includes material not in her book.
Instructor: Nancy Ellen Dodd
Nancy Ellen Dodd is a writer, a university instructor, and an editor. She received her master’s in Professional Writing from the University of So. California with a concentration in dramatic writing/screenwriting and her MFA in playwriting at USC’s School of Theatre. Having studied writing for more than 25 years, Dodd currently teaches screenwriting at Pepperdine University for undergraduate and graduate students.
She also studied writing with several successful, award-winning writers: Pulitzer-prize winning playwright Paul Zindel; playwrights Velina Hasu-Houston, Oliver Mayer, David Milton, and Lee Wochner; screen and television writer Sy Gomberg; and international poet James Ragan.
Dodd has received numerous awards for her writing, which include screenplays, plays, short stories, short films, and novel-length works, as well as inspirational writing. She has also published more than 130 articles in local and national publications including interviews with celebrities and business leaders.
* * *
Please note that this is a special event and will not take place in our usual venue. This workshop is at the Viscount Hotel (4855 East Broadway) and there is no Chapter meeting this month.
Meeting fee of $45 members, $55 guests and walk-ins includes a sandwich-bar lunch. SPACE MAY BE LIMITED. Walk-ins are welcome, but whenever possible, please guarantee your spot by reserving on our payments page or by emailing reservations@tucsonRWA.org no later than 8am Wednesday before the meeting.
How to Create Compelling Characters
Laurie Schnebly Campbell loves speaking to writers about issues that draw on her background as a therapist and in advertising. Having published half a dozen award-winning novels plus non-fiction, she teaches classes on creating plots & characters, and marketing books.
On November 1, Laurie will present a special workshop open to both RWA members and anyone else who wants to improve their understanding of characterization.
How to Create Compelling Characters Will Cover
- Shaping a character’s journey
- Choosing their psychological type
- Making conflict come naturally
- Blending plausible personalities
- Finding (and fixing) the fatal flaw
Along with the presentation there will be some hands-on exercises as well as extensive handouts, and — for every 25 people who attend — a door-prize gift of free registration to one of Laurie’s online classes.
- Date: Saturday, November 1, 2014
- Place: Viscount Hotel: 4855 E Broadway Blvd, Tucson, AZ
- Time: 9am to 3pm. Includes lunch
- Price: $45 – RWA members (any chapter), $55 nonmembers. (includes a deli lunch buffet with salad, cookies, coffee, and tea)
Register early! Space is limited and we expect this event to fill up.
Laurie Schnebly Campbell loves giving workshops for writer groups about “Psychology for Creating Characters,” “Making Rejection WORK For You,” “Building A Happy Relationship For Your Characters (And Yourself)” and other issues that draw on her background as a counseling therapist and romance writer.
In fact, she chose her website (www.BookLaurie.com) so people would find it easy to Book Laurie for programs.
But giving workshops — for students from London and Los Angeles to New Zealand and New York — is just one of her interests. During weekdays, she writes and produces videos, brochures and commercials (some of which feature her voice) for a Phoenix advertising agency. For several years she would turn off her computer every day at five o’clock, wait thirty seconds, turn it on again and start writing romance.
It finally paid off. Her first novel was nominated by Romantic Times as the year’s “Best First Series Romance,” and her second beat out Nora Roberts for “Best Special Edition of the Year.” But between those two successes came a three-year dry spell, during which Laurie discovered that selling a first book doesn’t guarantee ongoing success.
“What got me through that period,” she says, “was realizing that the real fun of writing a romance is the actual writing. Selling is wonderful, sure, but nothing compares to the absolute, primal joy of sitting at the computer and making a scene unfold and thinking ‘Wow! Yes! This is great!'”
After six books for Special Edition, she turned her attention to writing non-fiction — using her research into the nine personality types to help writers create plausible, likable people with realistic flaws. Her other favorite activities include playing with her husband and son, recording for the blind, counseling at a mental health center, traveling to Sedona (the Arizona red-rock town named for her great-grandmother, Sedona Schnebly) and working with other writers.
“People ask how I find time to do all that,” Laurie says, “and I tell them it’s easy. I never clean my house!”