What Motivates You?

A little thinking aloud here about character motivation here today (as I clean out my office….yes, I’m a little stalled in my current writing).

One of the Big Writing Things I learned in MALCOLM AT MIDNIGHT–that I actually posted on my computer desktop–was “It’s not what HAPPENS next, it’s what will Malcolm DO next?” (Yes, I’m a plot-driven writer, so sometimes I get bogged down in alll the fun stuff that can happen in a story, rather than spend time on the characters and have the action come from them.)

So, in thinking about this in regards to the new WIP…I need to have the action come from the characters. In MALCOLM, it was Malcolm’s weaknesses (for snacks, for the easy way out) that put him in the wrong place when the Big External Trouble (Aggy’s disappearance) happened. Once he’s in the Big Trouble, his outward motivation (prove his innocence; protect the nutters<–which is PERSONAL) drives the rest of the action.

Is it always this way? The last three books I read:


Amy Timberlake’s ONE CAME HOME: Georgie’s weaknesses (speaking her mind; wanting to hold on to her sister) sets the Big Trouble (her sister leaving) into motion (Big External Trouble=her possible death), but it’s her outward motivation (find her sister–personal) that drives the rest of the action.

Eliot Schrefer’s ENDANGERED: Sophie’s weakness (kindness/empathy for a particular animal) puts her in the wrong place when the Big External Trouble (revolution) happens. Her outward motivation (survival–personal) drives the rest of the action.

Phoebe Stone’s BOY ON CINNAMON STREET: this one’s a little tricky. Phoebe’s weakness (avoiding her past) makes her unable to figure out the “Big Trouble” (not really “trouble” so much here….secret admirer notes) when it happens. Finding out who wrote the notes drives the rest of the action, which she can’t do until the she comes to terms with her past.

Hmm. I’m probably stating the obvious here. I think I’m hung up (again!) because the Big External Trouble stakes that drive the rest of my action aren’t personal enough.

Sigh. I wish somehow writing got easier after you have written a book or two!