Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Motivator Inspections

"Uncle Owen, this R2 unit has a bad motivator!" Luke Skywalker, Star Wars: A New Hope

One of the things that I spend a lot of time on in writing leaves no words on a page. I consider motivation. I ask myself "Why did they do that? Why didn't they do this?"

For example, when Bo beats the stuffing out of the someone, why doesn't the victim report it? I come up with different reasons, but I have to admit my students have provided me with many reasons I might not have considered on my own. Everything from hating police because they wear blue to fear of being a "narc" to worry that the police busting them for something. And here I thought I was the teacher in that classroom.

For my novel, in my little "Novel Notebook" with the nifty collage on the cover, I have pages and pages of notes and scribblings on why everyone in the story has done what they have done. I'd like to think this helps my writing. Though there's still the issue of how much to put in.

Since the stories are told from Bo's point of view, there are limits on how much she can know. She's clever, but not omniscient. And I don't really like the idea of a detective "speculating" on everything or drawing such sure conclusions. Maybe it worked for Sherlock Holmes (though I still don't care for it in his works, either.) Even if we think we know someone's motivations, we're not always right. I've been married long enough to know that... ;-)

The most important question in anything I'm writing is 'Why?' I've had stories stumble then come to a crashing halt because I could not answer "WHY?" A great idea is not so great when I can't figure out what the driving force is. Such as "Why would this person even HIRE Bo?" (That's usually followed with 'aw shit.')

The biggest 'Why' in my writing always comes back to "Why wouldn't this crime be reported?" But that's just me.

What's the biggest "Why" you ponder-- in writing or otherwise? And how much do you worry about character motivation?


pattinase (abbott) said...

I think generally my entire story is usually about character motivation. I didn't realize this until I began to think about it now. I think one of the problems with my novel is that her motivation is not sufficiently sympathetic to the reader. Maybe she needs to suffer more on the page to win them over. Thanks for making me think about this.

Clair Dickson said...

Most of the bad movies I've watched left me asking "Why the hack did they do THAT?" Like when you watch a horror movie and they decide to split up.

I think motivation is big problem for many storytellers-- some just manage to get there's public some how. =)

And Patti-- I'd be careful using child or sexual abuse since that's become cliche. A person can be jaded, hardened, and have suffered without either of those. Think of the folks who have had one lousy marriage and painful divorce-- they can be some of the most embittered, unforgiving and prejudiced people.