"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us." —J. R. R. Tolkien

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Mid-Week Motivation

Can I start by mentioning this awesome review for THE NAVEL OF THE WORLD (available for pre-order, btw) at Becky's Book Reviews?
Okay, I was thrilled with her awesome review for THE EMERALD TABLET, but now I'm doubly thrilled with this one for book 2.
My favorite line from the review:

"I loved the use of mythology. I loved the adventure. I loved the humor. And most of all I loved the time travel."

Sweet! Oh yeah, did I mention THE NAVEL OF THE WORLD has time travel?

Anyway, on to motivation.

So here's my thought for the week.
Sometimes it's hard to decide what a character's motivation is. We have a story and let's just use a generic example for the sake of this blog post.

Evil vampire drops in out of nowhere and starts chasing a girl, trying to turn her into a vampire. She does not want to be turned into a vampire. She runs away and tries to escape from evil vampire.

So what is her motivation?

Is it to escape from the evil vampire? Or not.

This came up at my writing workshop this past weekend, and I heard a really interesting theory on this which was:

The girl's motivation is whatever it was before the vampire came along. The story is about the girl. Who she is. What she wanted in life. Then the vampire came along and kind of changed things a bit, added some conflict, but her motivation is driven from her pre-vampire state.

What are your thoughts? Agree? Disagree?

And happy Wednesday!


Christine M said...

Her motivation before the vampire showed up is obviously not to get away from the vampire. But if the story is about the vampire chasing her then that is what her motivation is.

However I do think it's important to know what the character is and wants before the problem showed up - it gives depth to the character. If that makes sense.

PJ Hoover said...

See, that's the main answer, Chris, but a critiquer tended to disagree and say her motivation is who she is before.
Maybe this comes down to if a novel is more character or plot driven?

Christine M said...

To the extent that how the person reacts to the situation would depend on what their earlier motivation was.

If Scarlet O'Hara were confronted by a vampire or if Pollyanna were confronted by a vampire you'd have two very different stories. Because the characters are different.

And the characters are different in part because of their previous motivation.

Now am thinking about Scarlet O'Hara with vampire: "Sir, you are not my beloved Ashley, I shall not let you near my neck unless you can prove what you can do for me."

And Pollyanna: "Really, it's ashame, Mr. Vampire, that you can't be out in the sun, but there are good things too: You'll never get a sunburn."

I think I'm getting punchy - perhaps I should go to sleep.

PJ Hoover said...

Scarlett would be all over the vampire if he could save Tara. Which is interesting. Her main driving force is to keep the plantation. An insertion of a vampire into this story would not change it, would it?

Love your examples!

Christine M said...

But interestingly enough, Scarlet's motivation to save the plantation was not her motivation before the story started. Before the war she barely cared about the plantation - so her motive changed as the situation changed - which I think is true of all characters.

I think it becomes a chicken and an egg kind of thing.

If a character's only motivation is derived from the situation he finds himself in in a story then the character is a hollow shell and could be interchangeable with any other character.

But if a character's motivation doesn't change based on the happenings of the story - then what's the point of the story?

PJ Hoover said...

Ack! I don't know! She just wanted Ashley. That was all!
Must give Scarlett a revisit, insert a vampire in her story (Rhett would make a nice vampire), and go from there.

Christine M said...

Right - at the beginning all she wanted was Ashley - but by the end - while she still would have taken him - her motivation had changed. I think that's kind of the point of story. Something causes a person to change. What's key though is they need to be someone before they change.

They need to have that initial motivation in order to be a realistic character at the start of the story and so that they can be altered by the events of the story.

And Gone with the Wind with Rhett as a vampire is an interesting idea. And why not? They did Pride and Prejudice with zombies!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Hmm, following the above thread, I see a short story anthology coming--vampires inserted in classics to give them a little new blood.

On a more serious note--I think the main plot of a story has to be whatever is the compelling motivation but there are other motivations, perhaps connected to the theme or subplots. No?
Let's throw Terminator in the mix. Is Sarah's motivation to save her son or the human race? Because it is her belief that her son saves the human race, she is motivated to save her son and that is what drives everything she does.

PJ Hoover said...

Love Sara Conner! A great example, Tricia.
I think her motivation is to save the human race. She's a bit cracked isn't she.
So when the terminator drops in in T2 it complicates her motivation, but her motivation remains the same - to save the human race. And the best way to do this is destroy the bad guy.

Can we just talk sci-fi and GWTW all evening? Love it. *sigh*

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Eek, I forgot to say Woo-hoo on the review. Very cool. Yay!

Back to motivation. I think the motivation that really drives the story comes with the inciting incident, right? So the girl and vampire example would mean her motivation is escape (at least if that is what the entire book is about). She isn't likely to know that before the vampire shows up. Unless she oddly announces she has a fear of vampires because all she ever wanted was to have a house with a picket fence, grow old there and be buried in the yard, thank you.
I find the motivation thing confusing, too, sometimes.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Me again. Back to Terminator. It just occurs to me that Sara doesn't start out motivated to save the world. So I disagree that the motivation is there at the start. She's a cream-puff, a bit timid, certainly no warrior, but the inciting incident turns her world on its head, and she eventually changes dramatically.

~Aimee States said...

We all want to save ourselves. Scarlett O'Hara was worried about herself, and after the war started, she wanted to save Tara because like like most of us, it defined her. By extension she was still saving herself. Just like a girl from a vampire. I think the motivations stay more similar than you may imagine. What was the girl doing before the vampire came along?

PJ Hoover said...

Thanks, Tricia! The motivation thing confuses me too. Motivation seems so weak when it is "to return to how things were" which seems the case so often on the "vampire-drop-in" thing.
And true for T1. I was thinking T2. Must see T4. Have you?????

Exactly what someone said this weekend, Aimee. What was she doing before the vampire came along?
And I love how you relate Scarlett's desire to save Tara to her being worried about herself, which she so totally was.

Miriam S.Forster said...

I'd agree with the critiquer. Unless you're writing a pure horror novel, the character has to want more than survival, don't you think?

Her reaction to being chased by a vampire will be determined by so many things: if there's anyone she needs to protect, what her life was like before the vampire, WHY the vampire is chasing her to begin with.

I have notice that many times in fantasy novels the character already has a quest, or something they want to accomplish. If that's the case, then the vampire is a complication.

(Again though, if the story is solely about being pursued by a vampire, I'd want to know why. Why this vampire? Why that girl?)

Hope this made sense, I'm a little sleepy!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

I've seen all the Terminators, more than once. I just love those movies.
I agree with Aimee that the most basic instinct is to save ourselves, so that may be behind every motivation to some degree. But it isn't all. Romeo desires Juliet. Ophelia wishes to die. Iago wants revenge.

Solvang Sherrie said...

That's an excellent way to look at motivation. I write character driven stories so their motivation helps me figure out who they are and how they will react to whatever is thrown at them.

Christina Farley said...

This is an interesting thought. I think character motivation is critical so I think yes, it does depend on her state before the vampire showed up. I mean, what if she was always wanting to actually be a vampire or was contemplating suicide?

But really, self preservation is a key part of ourselves as humans. So I guess running for your life is motivation enough for me.

Christine M said...

Ophelia wants Hamlet before she decides she wants to die.

Ask yourself: What do I want?

There's no easy answer. I mean perhaps there's the spot on the best seller list or under the spotlights on Broadway.

Maybe you want a bigger house or even to keep your house cleaner.

If you have kids your motivations often revolve around them: You want what's best for them, you want what them to be happy.

At any given time most people have multiple motivations.

I think a story (as opposed to an autobiography) deals with how one motivation changes or is affected by the instigating point of the story.

A person who has always wanted to be a vampire will have their motivation fulfilled when the vampire comes a-calling. Someone who just wants to keep her carpets clean may be unhappy with the mud that's being trooped about, but will have the additional motivation of getting away.

Getting away from the vampire for a moment: What if the character's motivation was to be number one in the class. Then a really smart student transfers in. The motivation can stay the same, but the complication gives us the story.

I may have to turn this into it's own blog post - I'm getting too verbose for the comments here.

PJ Hoover said...

Miriam, I love your extra "whys" these are SO important!

It's like everyone has some basic driving emotion, Tricia, and they are not always the same.
I loved all the previous Terminators and have high hopes for T4.

So Sherrie, it sounds like you're in the camp of having the motivation in place before the story even starts. And I love how you phrase it - how they handle whatever comes at them.

Very good, Christina! It seems that pre-existing driving motivation drives the actions throughout the story.

Yes, Chris! You need to do a blog post! Now does Scarlett want to be a vampire or not? Will being a vampire help her get the green draperies restored at Tara?

Thanks for the great discussion, everyone!

~Aimee States said...

This IS getting interesting!

And the vampire, what is his motivation? Hunger? Or maybe...she looks like Clarisse, long gone but not forgotten.

Even something as horrid as a serial killer can play into this. What about his life moved him to begin murdering?

Spontaneous things happen, like mudslides, and car accidents. But I believe most things can be tracked back to a purpose.

Christine M said...

Even in spontaneous things a person's existing motivation would color what happens next. Obviously everyone's motivation is to survive the mudslide or earthquake or whatever. But if the person is someone who's wedding is the next day or who just saw their oldest child off to college in the area of the disaster would have different motivations going forward.

This is really interesting to think about - and I am putting together a post on it - right now!

~Aimee States said...

That's why I love writer blogs! There's an entire issue I may struggle with at times because I don't really have the nuts and bolts information...then BOOM. Clarity. Moments like these that stack up make me pity beginners and the loooong haul to "getting it". It really is a chore to learn how to write WELL. Two years ago I thought "No prob."

Yeah, right.

MG Higgins said...

Great post! I'm going to write "Work on motivation!" at the top of my WIP. I was thinking of my own MC as I read through these comments and realized I may not be as clear on her motivation as I thought I was. (I'm not planning on throwing a vampire into the mix, though.)

T. Anne said...

Maybe her mortal state of being play into effect but I think your right whatever plagued her before rules this is just another anomaly in her life lol. Thanx the book review! I really wanted a good fantasy to read.

PJ Hoover said...

It is getting interesting, isn't it, Aimee. Love the vampire's motivation! It really does add a nice layer, doesn't it.

Boy, Chris, do we need to do some motivation work on our WIPs in the group? I'm thinking I do!

And so true, Aimee. Writing was very easy when I didn't know anything :)

That's what I keep thinking, too, MC. That I really need to go deeper into my character's motivations.

Love the vampire as just another anomaly in her life, T. Anne. This is a hilarious way to put it!

Christine M said...

I think a motivation workshop would probably be a good idea in the group!

And I've continued the conversation over at Simply Put

Feel free to stop by over there too!
(I hope that link works)

PJ Hoover said...

Me, too, Chris! Next time we have an off week!

Christine M said...

Next off week is end of August. That works out just right!

Robyn Campbell said...

What is driving the girl before the vampire starts chasing her is an interesting take on the motivation. I agree with it. There had to be a story before evil vampire decided he wanted to sink his teeth into girl.

Love the thread of you and Chris discussing this. That is the real story here. :)

Rebecca said...

P.J.-- If this character has no desire to be a vampire, but has goals for the type of life she wants to lead, then THAT is her motivation (living her life by her own plan, hence running away from the vampire).

Then again, and maybe I'm being silly, but...what if this character wants to be a vampire, but she is so terrified of the bite that she runs away?


PJ Hoover said...

Perfect, Chris!

I agree with it, too, Robyn. The more I think on it, the more sense it makes. And Christine always keeps me amused!

I'd be terrified of a vampire bite, Rebecca :)
I agree with you. The person she is drives the story.

Thanks for all the thoughts!

Lady Glamis said...

I've been working a lot with motivations lately, so this hits home! I've spent the past few days mapping out all my character's motivations. It's all taped up behind my computer now.

Congrats on the awesome review!

B.J. Anderson said...

AAAHHHHH! Motivation talk!! Just kidding. Hmmmmm. It's really late and my brains feel like mush, but I would stay her motivation is to not turn into a vampire? I'm sure you could put a whole bunch of other stuff in there like her hopes and dreams as a non-vampire. Sigh. Like I said, my brains are mush tonight. Good post!

PJ Hoover said...

Man, you are on-the-ball, Michelle! Motivation taped on the wall. I need to do this big time!
And thanks!

It's kind of like there is short term and long term motivation, isn't it, BJ. And ditto on the mush brain. Time for sleep here!


Lenore said...

Time Travel?! You know you hooked me with that. Heard from my friend that the book arrived safe and sound. Eleanor should be reading it now!

Carrie Harris said...

I think the motivation is what makes her not want to become a vampire, because that's what makes her run. And you've got to go backwards to figure it out. I think this is a big part of the difference between cliche (I run away from vampires because they're evil!) and good story.

PJ Hoover said...

I LOVE time travel, Lenore! That's got to be the best part of writing - to be able to put in everything I love. Yay that Eleanor got it :)

So true, Carrie! Cliche vs. good story. Even these motivations can be traced to makes "good" horror movies stand out from the cliched ones. Didn't we always love the snippets of backstory in Nightmare on Elm Street?

C.R. Evers said...

That is an interesting thought. What are her hopes and dreams that wouldn't be accomplished if she became a vampire. Who would she miss? What is she afraid of? After all, some people would like to be turned into a vampire.

Great thought.

and YaY! for a great review!

PJ Hoover said...

Thanks, Christy!
I guess it comes down to really knowing who your character is before the story even starts, right?

Iapetus999 said...

I don't think people (or characters) really change. She has the same motivation before and after. She wants to live. She wants to not get hurt.

We all want to eat. It doesn't become an overarching goal until we're starving. Then we eat and the goal is met. Does that mean we never eat again? Goals and motivations depend on the circumstances, but nothing in her life will ever make her not get hungry when she hasn't eaten.
Same thing with living. You don't really have a goal of "I need to stay alive" until death (or undeath) becomes a possibility. Yet it was always there, ever since you were a wee toddler and fell and bumped your head, then cried your ass off because you learned that things hurt and you're a fragile being.

I think this conversation revolves around "what's her immediate motivation." Of course it will reflect the part of her life in most peril.

Here's the thing. If you start out by saying, "my character wants a college degree more than anything," then put her in a university setting, and make her fight to the death to keep studying. Because she knows if she doesn't get that degree, then she might as well succumb to that pesky vamp and call it a life.

If people aren't willing to fight for their goals despite incredible odds, then the story just isn't that interesting. Sorry.
Great post!

PJ Hoover said...

Great response, Andrew! Willing to fight for goals despite incredible odds is a perfect way to phrase it.
Thanks for visiting!