Motivation: What Makes Your Characters Move?

I started a new story the other day and did my normal thing. I jumped right the hell into the deep end. Only then did I realize that I didn’t know how to swim in this particular pool. Ripples in the Blue Water of a Swimming Pool

Getting away from the swimming metaphor (forgive me, it’s HOT in eastern North Carolina), I set the story aside for a day or so and figured out why I couldn’t make it work. You see, I have a very clear idea of what I want to have happen, but I couldn’t figure out how to make my characters get from point A to point B. They just stood there like little statues.

I know now why. I knew one of the characters pretty well. He was in Close Up Magic, so he didn’t hold that much mystery for me. I knew what motivated him. Guilt, love, a certain fragility of spirit and an inner strength he doesn’t realize he possesses yet. And I created this awesomely sexy heroine to show him the way. She’s strong, beautiful, worldly–but I couldn’t get her to fall in love with him.

I realized that while I knew what my hero’s motivation was, I wasn’t sure about hers. I’d jumped into the middle of the story and forgotten to wade a little into the backstory first. Even if I don’t need to tell the reader everything at first, I need to know why she’d choose this particular instance to fall in love with this particular guy.

It’s a rookie mistake, and one I’ve made before (waaay back when I was a rookie, wink wink). I think a lot of writers make it. We get excited about telling the story and forget a basic fundamental of storytelling: without motivation, our characters won’t live. Whether it’s a carrot or a stick, we’ve gotta give them a reason to move from the beginning of the story to the climactic middle to the end.

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