A collection of musings, articles and news about romance fiction.

Posts tagged “motivation

Writing 101: Motivating Your Character

Character motivation can be one of the most enjoyable aspects of writing. It’s where you get to ask, over and over, ‘but why?’ – and not get slapped for it. Creating motivation for your character is not only a great brainstorming exercise that encourages your muse, it’s also critical to developing a believable plot – or at least, a plot that your reader is prepared to believe. Without proper motivation that suspension of disbelief comes crashing down.

As mentioned in a previous post on the Four W’s of Character Development, motivation is a fundamental aspect of building your character. Motivation is what drives your character, it’s the engine that gets that vehicle moving.

Motivation gives your character credibility, depth, and will create that emotional empathy with your reader.

So, it’s important. Don’t scrimp on the motivation. When you establish clear motivation for your character, s/he can literally get away with murder, in the eyes of your reader.

One way to create motivation out of the ether for your character (and we’ve mentioned already that there are so many different methods writers can use, what I suggest here is merely what works for me) is to drill down to their core belief system, and their internal and external needs.

Harking back to my Year 8 social studies lessons, needs are what MUST be met in order for you to 1) survive, and 2) grow/develop. To explore it further, we’ll look briefly at the psychological theory put forward by Abraham Maslow in his paper, “A Theory of Human Motivation”.  Maslow’s theory suggests that the most basic of physiological needs must be met before one can focus on any higher level needs.

For example; a body needs food, water and shelter from the environment, and will pursue those needs until they are met. If they are not met, then the person may feel anxious, stressed – and deficient (hungry, thirsty, cold, wet, etc).

Once those basic needs are met, the individual can then focus on other needs, such as security – is the shelter safe from attack, are the members of my family/tribe/group safe, am I wounded/avoiding danger, etc.

At each stage when a need is met, the individual can build upon and lift their focus to the next stage of ‘need’, such as social, belonging, family, etc.

Maslow described our hierarchy of needs as:

Maslows Hierarchy of Needs

  1. Physiological: those things needed for our physical survival.
  2. Safety: those things needed to make us feel secure, safe, comfortable.
  3. Love/belonging: those things needed for us to feel engaged, accepted, loved, welcomed, etc.
  4. Esteem: those things that make us feel respected, recognised, worthy, and reflected in our self-respect and self-esteem.
  5. Self-actualisation: the realisation of our full potential, the drive for accomplishment and self-improvement/self-mastery.

But how do we relate this to our writing, and specifically, to our character?

We’re going to start with what our character NEEDS.

Motivation is WHY your character thinks, feels, acts and reacts the way s/he does.

I’m going to break motivation into two basic tracks –

  1. Deepest Desire
  2. Fundamental Fear

Deepest Desire

Primary Motivation: what does your character want, seek, crave, desire? These are the deepest, darkest seeds – qualities and requirements – that your character needs to feel safe, secure, comfortable, content and able to grow.

Nature vs Nurture: The age old argument; evolution versus environment. What has your character experienced – major life events, traumas, pivotal people, their culture – how have these aspects influenced the person your character has become? These aspects include; religious beliefs, language, family, education, ethnicity, socio-economic background, intellect, appearance, etc.

Self-Concept: How does your character see him/herself? What perception or view do they have of themselves as a self-truth? Note: this may not be the actual truth of their personality, but it is their SELF truth, what they truly believe is the case. We’ll cover Self-Concept in greater detail in a separate post. How does your character see him/herself, particularly in view of their deepest desire?

Make a list of twenty. Then make another list. You’ll find the first list are obvious needs and motivators. In the second list, there will be some things that may surprise you, intrigue you – and be a great, realistic, believable, compelling motivation for your character.

Newton’s Law of Motivation:

For every deep desire, there is an equal and opposite fundamental fear.

Each Deep Desire will have an equal, opposite and reactive Fundamental Fear if the desire (need) is not achieved.

Deep Desire vs Fundamental Fear

Fundamental Fear

Primary Motivation: what does your character dislike, fear, shun, hate, and is repulsed by? These are the deepest, darkest seeds – qualities and requirements – that your character fears and prevents him/her from feeling safe, secure, comfortable, content and able to grow.

Nature vs Nurture: The age old argument; evolution versus environment. What has your character experienced – major life events, traumas, pivotal people, their culture – how have these aspects influenced the person your character has become? These aspects include; religious beliefs, language, family, education, ethnicity, socio-economic background, intellect, appearance, etc.

Self-Concept: How does your character see him/herself? What perception or view do they have of themselves as a self-truth? Note: this may not be the actual truth of their personality, but it is their SELF truth, what they truly believe is the case. We’ll cover Self-Concept in greater detail in a separate post. How does your character see him/herself, particularly in view of their deepest desire?

Make a list for each track.  Make another list. Write as many deep desires and fundamental fears you can think of for your character, and select what works for you.

Then create the backstory for your character – how they developed these deepest desires and fundamental fears – you now have motivation that adds depth to your character – and possibly to your plot (but that’s another post!).

Feel free to download a Motivation Worksheet.

Good luck, and get writing!

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New Year Resolutions – Using GMC for Sucess

Okay, put your hand up if you’ve ever made a New Year’s resolution, and then promptly forgotten it, only to realise in a blind panic in November that you’ve done nothing you’d planned to do in January…

Yeah, I see you.

List Person

I’m a list person. Ask anyone who knows me, and they’ll agree. They may even use the ‘anal-retentive’ or ‘obsessed’ phrases in conjunction with this statement. I’ll just leave it ‘list person’. I like making lists for a very good reason – if I don’t, I’ll forget something. Okay, I’ll forget a lot of things, for example; the milk, or paying bills, the release date of my new book, a guest blog post, or ordering the swag of author goodies… the list could go on (pun completely intended). I mean, even Santa has a list. Two, actually.

I also set my goals – writing, lifestyle – no portion of my life is safe from this exercise.  The pleasure I get from crossing an achieved goal off my list makes me wonder if I might have a problem, but I’m not ready for therapy, yet. But I know at this time of year, we all do some sort of life-affirming nod toward organising a better life for ourselves over the next year, and while listing what we want to do may seem easy, delivering on that promise to ourselves is something we sometimes struggle with. (I’m using the royal ‘we’, here, folks.)

Here’s a trivial factoid: People who make resolutions are 10 times more likely to achieve their goals than people who don’t.

So, instead of blabbing on about my customary S.M.A.R.T. Goal-Setting session, I’ve decided I’m going to try a different angle, by using a writing tool – G.M.C., and using it for Life Strategies.

Must Buy!

Must Buy!

Goal, Motivation and Conflict is an insightful book written by Debra Dixon – a very, very smart lady with a knack for explaining the basic building blocks for creating great characters and great fiction. If possible, I now have an even deeper appreciation for Han Solo. If you’re interested in writing, regardless of the genre, then this is a book you must have.

In essence: Goal – what does your character want? Motivation – why does your character want it? Conflict – why doesn’t your character have/get it?

Or, as I call it, the What, Why and Why Not?

Again, I can’t stress what an awesome resource this book is, and I’ll go more in-depth about it another day, but for now, how can we use the GMC writer’s tool for life strategies?

Well…

Goal: What is it that you want? To lose weight? To spend more time with friends and family? To quit smoking? To get out of debt? Identify your own specific goal, and make it specific. For more tips on setting goals, read my article on S.M.A.R.T. goal-setting.

Motivation: Why do you want what you want? This is possibly one of the most important aspects of writing – why does the character want that job/artefact/guy/gal/treasure/evidence? How has their experience and core values interlinked to set up a desire? Motivation is a reflexion of the complex moral fibre, so identifying your motivation is a good way of ensuring your goal is in keeping with your own moral values – if it’s not, or if it contradicts your own core value system, then you will naturally resist accomplishing it. For example: Do you want to lose weight to look good? Or to be fit and keep up with the kids? Or for your own self-assurance? Identifying why this goal is important to you will help it ‘click’, or resonate, and will strengthen your resolve, particularly when you reach a hurdle. This is what will drive you through the tough times, knowing why it is so important to achieve that goal.

Conflict: Why not? What is standing in your way to achieving your goal? For example, if losing weight is your goal, but your partner keeps stocking the cupboard with naughty munchies, this creates conflict for you. If you want to stop smoking, but always find yourself surrounded by those seductive cigarettes in other people’s hands, that’s going to create conflict. So is shopping if you’re trying to get out of debt. Identifying the conflicts, those ‘hiccups’ that naturally oppose and prevent you from attaining your goal, will give you some insight into your own character – will help you identify potential weaknesses, or areas that require just a little focus, or a little tweaking, to resolve that conflict. Figuring out why you can’t get/do what you want is part of the way to reaching your goal. Knowing what you’re facing, and planning a way around it, past it or through it is in itself a success.

And yes, here comes that old chestnut: Failing to plan = planning to fail. Get some insight into what makes you tick with your personal goals, and get strategizing to insure success.

penSo, get out your notebooks, and jot down your own G.M.C. for 2013 – and good luck!