Monday, April 15, 2013

A to Z Challenge: M is for Motivation

Welcome to the 2013 A to Z Challenge!

This year, I’m focusing on two themes:  Emotions and grammar,
depending on which letter we’re on each day.

I’ll be sharing mostly what I’ve learned about writing emotion into a novel, but I’ll also be throwing in a few key grammar lessons, pet peeves I’ve picked up while working as an editor.

Okay, so today’s less a grammar day and more a writing day.  Sue me!   


M is for Motivation:  the act or instance of causing or providing a reason for a person to perform in a certain way

When writing a novel, motivation is key to not only propelling the story forward, but to also drawing the reader into it.  It gives reason to why the character makes certain choices, and it is these choices that get him into trouble, and why the reader comes to care for him. 

For me, it was this choice, the character’s motivation, that drove me to write my book, The Mistaken.  I wondered what could make a good man choose to commit a violent crime.  The possibilities were endless, of course, but for me, it was personal.  I needed direct answers to my own questions, to explain why certain things had happened to me.

Motivation defines the character and molds the plot.  The author provides a situation that will stimulate the character’s response.  He imagines what he would do when put in their position.  If the motivation is realistic and fully fleshed out, it becomes understandable, and the character becomes believable and justified, no matter how poor his choices are.  

There are so many motivations typically used in literature—a noble goal, the desire to return home, glory, greed, to live out a dream or experience an adventure, freedom, justice.  In my novel, the motivation was two-fold—first revenge, then redemption. 

I had to make the reader understand why the protagonist would be willing to commit such a vicious offense in the name of revenge.  Then, after he’s crossed over to the dark side, I had to make the reader still care enough for him to see him through to his redemption.  Not an easy task, because he does a VERY bad thing. 

I think the writer needs to approach motivation like Method acting and essentially immerse themselves in the story and become the character.  In the end, understanding the motivation behind my character's deeds help me understand then accept experiences in my own life. 


Sheena-kay Graham said...

Motivation is great both for the characters and the writers behind them. An unmotivated character or writer spells disaster.

Catherine Noble said...

Fabulous post, Nancy! Understanding the motivation behind your character's actions are really important, in my opinion. If you don't establish the motivation, I think it would transfer on to the page as a 2D character, moulded to fit around the plot, not good!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

There has to be just cause for it to seem real. And if it goes too far, readers won't care anymore.
Inside my main character's head? Are you kidding? Byron's an arrogant mess!

Nick Wilford said...

You really do have to live through your character. If the reader doesn't care about them or their motivation seems false or contrived, everything else will fall flat.

Cassie Mae said...

Oh, can I just echo what Nick said? That sounded exactly like what I was thinking, only he said it much better than I would've, lol.

Natalie Aguirre said...

So true we have to be motivated as writers. And motivation of our characters drives the plot. Great choice for M.

Mark Duin said...

I have one principle to be successful. And that principle is called I.A.M (Idea, Action, and Motivation)

Idea - The plan you make to get what you want.
Action - Executing that plan.
Motivation - The major ingredient which drives your action consistently.

Mark Duin
Motivational Speaker

Dani said...

I need a little bit of motivation lately.
What another great motivational post!
Dani @ Entertaining Interests

kmckendry said...

Great post! I love thinking about what causes characters to become who they are.

Mark Means said...

Great post and I totally agree about's one of the key driving forces in a story and with a character.

LD Masterson said...

And, of course, if you read/write mystery, motive is almost essential to solving the case.

Anonymous said...

Great post. There does need to be motivation for your characters. Something the reader can identify with.

Steven said...

Great tips! I've found knowing characters' motivations to be quite useful in not getting hung up at different points of a plot.

Donna K. Weaver said...

Such a great post. Yes. Motivation is what drives people to do what they do. And how they perceive their world totally ties to what they've been through.

Eve said...

Great post Nancy! I immediately thought of Lucy on the I Love Lucy show, in the episode where she was writing a play, and acting out all the parts as she was was crazy funny.

Carrie Butler said...

Oh, absolutely. I have to get inside all of my characters' heads!

mooderino said...

Believing in a character's need to do something is a basic requirement in fiction, I think.


Robin said...

I like this post very much. Feeling your way through the motivation of *anything* is a good way to understand a character or a person. It does make it possible to Go The Distance all the way to Redemption.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Without motivation, a character is unbelievable and the plot feel contrived.

Heather M. Gardner said...

Excellent points.

I do love diving into character heads.


Al Penwasser said...

Exactly. If the protagonist isn't motivated, why should the reader be motivated to read about him/her?

Chuck said...

Nancy, you used this emotion perfectly and very strongly in your book. It felt almost 3-D as it had so much power as the center of the story.

You already know my feelings on your book so I will try to not over do it :)

FYI...Amphetamine laced = trash acid

Chuck at Apocalypse Now

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

I've probably already said this, but what's really kewl is how you're incorporating the challenge with "Mistaken."

Great analogies, Nancy.

Lynda R Young said...

motivation is truly what drives the characters forward.