Discovering Character Motivation

How you choose to overcome them is what(1)

Plot – the things that happen to your character.

Motivation – why/how they choose to deal with the roadblocks in front of them.

I wrote a book. One hundred thousand beautiful words made it into my manuscript and I can tell you I was SO PROUD when I finally wrote THE END!!! I started what is essentially a marathon and made it all the way to the finish line.

Ahh those heady days of success. I was so chuffed with my work I packaged it up, wrote a fabulous cover letter and sent it out to a selected group of agents and publishers whom I was sure would fall over themselves to sign me up for a three book deal immediately.

I bet you can guess what happened next.

Yep, I got rejected. Oh let me count the ways I got rejected.

Most of them were one line copy and pasted responses like, “this isn’t what we are currently looking for…”, “thanks but no thanks” and “was that you standing outside my window and going through my garbage?”

It was a pretty low point in my fledgling writing career and of course I reacted badly. I ranted about how the world was unfair and cruel. How could I have poured so much of myself into something and have it rejected? Clearly agents couldn’t see talent even it bit them on the ass.

It went on for a while folks. Not my proudest moment.

And then something interesting happened. I received another rejection but this time the kind agent who had taken the time to point out a few of the reasons why they liked my idea but couldn’t consider taking it on as it was. The major factor being that, in their point of view, the heroine lacked motivation.

At first I was appalled. How dare they suggest that I had left out such an important device from my masterpiece. But then I read it again. And you know what? I had my character roaming around the countryside, meeting interesting people, falling in love and solving problems but nowhere, from beginning to end, did it clearly show her motivation. There was no explanation for why she did the things she did or how those choices ultimately made her grow as a person through my rambling tale.

It was a tough lesson but one well learned.

In many ways motivation seems obvious. Surely it is implied. For example if you are writing a story about a character who is tying their shoe laces then they must be going for a walk right? Maybe. Or maybe not. What if your hero likes to wear shoes at all times because he stepped on snail when he was six and he now lives in constant fear of doing it again.

Just because a character is doing something does’t mean it is obvious to the reader why.

So here are my tips for helping you discover your character’s motivation.

Ask yourself why

This might seem like a strange idea to some people but if you are going to commit to the thousand hours it takes to write a book, not even edit it just write the thing, then why do you want to tell the story of this character? Why should your audience care what happens to them? Who is this person going to become because of their journey?

Create a status quo

Every good character needs to start somewhere. Harry Potter was stuck living in a cupboard, Elizabeth Bennett needed to find a husband and Katniss was born into a world that was unjust. As a reader we need to understand where the hero or heroine comes from before we give them the plot point that drives them to leave or change the world they have always known.

Interview your character

Whether it is over a cup of tea or in a dark room with a bright light shining in their eyes, imagine sitting across from your hero and asking him some questions about himself. Find out why he does things the way he does and what his reactions would be to a given situation.

Use a motivation generator

Springhol.net have this awesome Motivation Generator. It is a really fun way to spend 1o minuets and get some great ideas at the same time.

If you have any great ideas about discovering a characters motivation or anecdotes about your own writing share them in the comments below. 

Do authors need a blog?

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This is the question… Do authors need a blog?

The simple answer is no, of course not!

Phew. Okay, now you can get back to writing your creative masterpiece and ignore all the baloney about building a personal brand and having a community to sell that masterpiece to.

Okay, okay, so while you don’t need a blog it certainly helps when it comes to selling books (or laying down the path for people who like your writing and therefore might want to actually want to buy your books when you finally get them published).

I know that starting a blog can feel daunting but after all of my research and chatting to other budding/established authors I have to say there are some pretty compelling reasons to get on board with blogging.

It’s good practice – Rome wasn’t built in a day and everyone needs to be practice to be really good at their craft, even authors.

Blogs can give you a chance to hone your craft, test your material on readers before committing it to your book, find people who enjoy the same things as you and put your unique voice into the world.

The most important thing is keep it simple. Sign up to a free blogging site like WordPress or Blogger and talk about things you like, know or that happen around you. Explore your experience as a writer and share it with other people who are on the same path.

Give it a go. What’s the worst that can happen?

So what do you think? Tell me about your blog in the comments.

 

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7 tips for emerging writers

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I recently had the pleasure of attending the Emerging Writer’s Festival Conference in Melbourne. To begin the first day the five festival ambassadors each presented seven pieces of advice they wish they had know when they began writing. Below are mine.

1. Write a little each day

I know this sounds like the sort of bollocks your dentist tells you about flossing, and I’m sorry to be the one to tell you, it’s all true! (Note to self: book dentist appointment.)

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Most of the time I’m convinced I produce the sort of prose that would’ve left Shakespeare sitting at my feet like a starry eyed groupie. But without fail when I come back to that same piece of writing a month later I cringe with the awfulness of my word choices and the sloppiness of the plotting.

The important thing to remember is that writing a little each day doesn’t have to be a drag on your awesome online social life (hellloooo….. Anyone out there?…..). Scribbling ideas in a notebook, recoding great lines on your smart phone or making a litre of coffee and getting stuck in to it for three hours all count. They do! I checked.

2. Organise yourself and your space

Confucius once said, “clean your shit up!” Hmmm… maybe that was just my mum.

Anyway they both have a point. If you have messy work area then you will never make a start on that epic Cinderella vs Swamp Monster novel you have been telling your friends about for the last three years.

Take five minuets of writing time to do a quick tidy and make your space clear. It will generally make it easier to focus.

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3. Learn as much about the craft of writing as you can

With the invention of the Internet (yes kids there was a time when Instagram didn’t exist) an abundance of wonderful writing resources have sprung out of nowhere. Most authors will have a website where you can find tips and there are plenty of forums where both experienced and emerging writers will share their wisdom. So make like a honey badger and get amongst it.

4. Be open to criticism

Another benefit of the Internet is that it’s a great way to get other writers and readers to look at your work. Websites like Figment.com and WritersCafe.org give you a chance to test the waters before you start sending your writing to agents or publishers.

The really important thing is not to be offended by what others might say about your work. Every piece of constructive criticism is meant to make you a better writer, not just a cranky crank pants. That said if you are being besieged by trolls initiate protocol #3487.

Protocol #3487 – Do not feed the trolls. Walk away and have a cupcake.

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5. Meet other writers

I found that the chance to go to an event like the Emerging Writers Festival was a brilliant way to meet people who shared my passion for writing.  I wandered from room to room with my fellow newbies listening to the sage swearing of the ‘old hands’ as they described their life’s work. It was equal parts humbling and inspiring to see other people ‘living the dream’.

I think connecting with other writers is the best way to remind you of why you loved writing in the first place.

6. Write in lots of different styles

Don’t just decide that you only write geriatric erotica or academic papers for children. Stretch yourself and try lots of different kinds of writing. You might find that you are best at one thing, say short stories or you might discover a new love.

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7. Success = Persistence + Optimism

Everyone has a different opinion on what success looks like. But as far as reaching your version, I believe it requires equal amounts of persistence and optimism. There is one thing I can guarantee you will hear as a writer, ‘thanks but no thanks.”

There are always stories of writers who were rejected a gazillion times before they ‘made it’, Stephen King, J.K. Rowling and others come to mind. These struggles have become fables within themselves and are passed on to each new generation of aspiring writers.

The important thing is to keep going. Blog, find magazines and pitch article ideas, enter competitions, write and perform plays in your backyard, do whatever it takes to stay optimistic and see every rejection as a badge of honour on your road to ‘making it.’

Happy writing!

If you would like to read some of my work click here.