Splitting The Scene, Part Five: A Supersonic Smart Bomb Named Desire
Think about it.
I’m out early many days and witness thousands of cars lined bumper to bumper, each of them eager to get somewhere.
Is it a matter of survival? Some primitive force that drives these people to leave the comfort and safety of their own homes? Are they just trying to satisfy their basic needs of food, shelter, clothing, and cable TV? Are they motivated by money, fame, a sense of responsibility, of purpose? Do they really believe what they do on any given day is going to make a difference? That anyone gives a damn?
Why don’t they just stay home in their PJs and sit at the computer or something all day?
Okay. All you folks lucky enough to write for a living can stop gloating now. Even you have to be somehow motivated to drag your fuzzy bunny slippers and a mug of coffee to your workspace. Why do you do it? Do you consider yourself an artiste? Would you do it if you knew for a fact that you would never get published or paid for your efforts?
I’ve heard some writers claim that they have to write, that it’s the same as breathing for them. I guess that’s true in some cases. When Hemingway ran out of words, he took a shotgun to his head. Is that how you feel? Or would you give up today if you thought there would never be any sort of reward? Are we merely Skinner’s rats? Pavlov’s dogs? Did Freud have it right? Are we all simply motivated to get laid? Or does something deeper keep us on track?
I don’t think there’s any one answer as to what motivates us to do what we do. Mostly, I think it’s because we derive some sort of pleasure or some hint of future pleasure for our toils, be that in the form of material embellishment or psychological validation for ourselves and our loved ones. Or, if you’re very spiritual, the reward might be something completely beyond your grasp until your physical journey is over.
Stop thinking about what motivates you.
Think now about what motivates the characters in your novel. Motivation, my friends, is of utmost importance to your characters’ success. And to yours.
In the context of the story, what does your character want more than anything? To find true love? ROMANCE. To save the world? THRILLER. To solve a heinous crime? MYSTERY. To exhume and destroy their inner demons? LITEREARY. To investigate and reveal physical or supernatural monsters? HORROR. Etc.
No matter the genre, your character(s) must want something, and want it badly. If they’re not successful, then their lives will be irrevocably changed for the worse.
So what makes your characters tick? Why do they do what they do? Are they merely puppets on a string that you’ve thrown into an extraordinary situation called plot, or do they drive the story with their motivations? Do they seek their desires like a heat-seeking missile, or does fate and contrivance control their destinies?
What do your characters want? What sacrifices are they willing to make in order to achieve their goals?
If you haven’t already answered these questions, it might be time to go back and do so.