Today I want to look at character motivations, specifically the six key things you must do before writing your novel.
In any good story, your main character is driven by the pursuit of some overarching goal, for example, to solve the crime, win the race, or rescue the princess. These story arcs are critical to your plot, to build tension, and to spin your readers a good yarn.
But what motivates them, and why is this important for you as a writer to give some thought to? Ready to go? Let's get into it!
We’re going to consider 6 things that you should do when you’re outlining or plotting your story, before you ever write a single word of your story. This will guide you and keep you on track once you are in the writing phase of your story, so you’ll never have to second guess yourself and write yourself into a corner.
1. The One Sentence Summary
First, write a one-sentence summary of your character’s storyline. Don’t overthink it. This is as simple as going on a quest to rescue the princess so I can get my swamp back. Simple simple.
2. The Key Motivation (Abstract)
Second, describe your character’s key motivation, that is, what your character wants in an abstract way. Again, don’t overthink it. This could be justice for all, true love, to find peace and joy in a meaningless world. These are all abstract things, but they speak to what drives your character.
3. The Key Motivation (Concrete)
Third, describe your character’s overall story goal . . . what she wants in a concrete, real way. This is stuff like: get my swamp back, kill the bug eyed aliens, save the earth, stop the empire from blowing up planets.
Fourth, you now need to look at conflict. What’s stopping your character from achieving that goal? There’s likely a bunch of things, but for this exercise, focus on the major one: a nasty, fire-breathing, human-eating dragon, Darth Vader, Joker, the evil CEO
5. The Epiphany
Fifth, in the pursuit of their story goal, your character is going to undergo some kind of change, some epiphany that informs their actions. So how will your character change? What will she learn? What will he find? Perhaps it’s courage, perhaps it’s a realization that Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Write this down.
6. The Storyline Summary
And finally, number 6, wrap up all these things in a one-paragraph summary of your character’s storyline. Again, don’t overthink it. There’s no need to write an essay on what motivates your character, just pull all those first 5 things together in a summary. Refer to this as your writing, and you’ll stay on track.
Do this for all your major characters, your protagonist, atagonist, confidant, romantic interest . . . they all want something, and they all have reasons for taking action.
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Today I want to talk about the one obstacle to writing that my workshop writers consistently identify as the biggest problem facing them. Any guess what it might be? You might think it’s fear, and that’s definitely up there. We’re afraid of all kinds of things when it comes to writing: being judged, thinking we’re not good enough, talented enough . . . actually, any number of things.
No Time to Write
But the one obstacle to writing that most students point to is the lack of time. Now I get that. We’re all busy with our lives, our jobs, families, kids . . . there’s no shortage of things getting in the way of our writing.
And because we typically view writing as an indulgence, that is, something that’s not very important, it’s easy to drop it from the to-do list, isn’t it?
When that happens, all our commitments to finally writing that novel this year, or finally getting to those short story ideas we promised ourselves . . . disappear. And here we are a short time later wondering what happened?
Two Tips To Find More Time To Write
So, yeah, the biggest challenge to writing isn’t talent or knowledge. It’s not about whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned veteran. It has everything to do with finding the time to sit down and write. Now, it makes sense then, that if we can overcome this lack of time, perhaps we could make the time to get our writing done.
That might mean turning off the Netflix for an hour every second night. Instead of binge-watching, how about organizing a binge-writing session with your friends. Here’s another thing you can do to make time to write. Get up half an hour earlier a few times a week, and use that extra 30 minutes to write. Many of us find this to be a powerful writing strategy.
I’m reminded of the Billy Crystal character in the movie Throw Momma From The Train. Very funny movie by the way. Anyway, he’s writing teacher and he tells his students all the time that a writer writes, always. So here’s something you can do right after this video. Take a few minutes and really think about everything you do during the day. Are there times where you can find a few minutes here, a few minutes there where you can write? Is there something you can give up for a few months while you work on your novel? Now, make a commitment to write more in the next week and see how it goes. Then do it for another week. And then another. Before you know it, you’ll be cranking out the words like a pro.
I really enjoy working with emerging authors, and here's a new one for you. B.R. Meston has just released his first novel called Phoenix Rises published by DeeBee Books. It's currently available on Amazon and will be distributed globally over the coming weeks.
Here's my interview with B.R. Meston
First of all, where did the idea for Phoenix Rises come from?
The story of how I came up with the idea for the book Phoenix Rises is an interesting one. In 2012, When I was in grade 7, I met one of my all-time favourite teachers named Laura Blake. One morning Laura and I started talking and she asked me if I had any hobbies. My immediate response was that I loved writing stories. I shared with her that one day that I wanted to realize my dream of becoming a published author. Laura encouraged me to pursue my passion for writing and somehow that led to me writing Phoenix Rises.
Although it is true that the story has changed significantly since Laura typed the first draft all those years ago, I could say for certain having Laura’s love and support changed my life and allowed me to become a better writer. If I could talk to Laura today I would say thank you for changing my life and believing in me. I will carry the lessons you taught me forever.
Teachers really can make a huge difference in our lives. What were some of the biggest challenges you faced writing Phoenix Rises?
I loved writing Phoenix Rises; however, it was not without its challenges. Of course I knew writing it that I was breaking new ground In several different ways: my two main characters are female, one of which has a disability. However, I also discuss such topics as LGBTQ relationships, medical assistance in dying, and perhaps above all witchcraft and wizardry.
In my heart I knew that I had to add these elements into the book. For example people with disabilities are the largest minority in the world; however, we are the most underrepresented in entertainment and literature. As an author, I knew I needed to do what I could to change that.
In my view it is completely fine for a parent of a child to say we need to talk about what you’re reading or we need to read that together. In fact, it would be wonderful if a parent read my book with their child; however, this concept that you can’t read something because it talks about a specific topic that you don’t agree with that to me is nonsensical. We should be embracing our diversity not running from it. With all that being said, however, as an author it is difficult to know that my book may not be read by someone purely because of what my book is about and who I’m trying to represent throughout the story.
Are you a pantser or a plotter, that is, do you map out your story before writing, or just start writing and see where things go?
As a writer, the ideas come to my head and I write them as they come to me. I do not plan most of my writing as I prefer to see where the ideas take me. I will often say that I write the way my life is: I think I’m going in one direction and then things change completely and I am somewhere that I never imagined.
Where do you find your inspiration?
A lot of the inspiration for my writing comes from the injustices that I see in the world around me. Writing provides me with a fantastic outlet to make sense of what’s happening. My writing provides me with a safe way to express all of my emotions. My body may be limited by my disability, but when I’m writing my mind can go where my legs cannot take me.
Now that Phoenix Rises is done, do you have another writing project in the works?
Now that Phoenix Rises is done and published, I'm excited and ready to continue the story that was started. The story is not over yet my friends!
Great! Do you have any tips for writers who want to write their novel?
My advice to any new writer is there is no such thing as writers block. If you have writers block, you are afraid of something. Also, never get too attached to the first version of a story. Let go and just let the writing take you where it wants to go. I promise you it is an amazing journey.
Be sure to check out B.R. Meston's new book Phoenix Rises and support an emerging writer.
It's been a busy spring with more first time novels coming online and more to come over the next few months. Here's another... from first-time novelist Bob Eslami, called Booked! It's currently available on Amazon and will be distributed globally over the coming weeks.
Bob has attended a couple of the Ottawa Writing Workshops over the years and has written several YA short stories. I had the pleasure of coaching him through the process of writing his first full-length novel. Here's my interview with Bob...
Where did the idea for Booked! come from?
I was thinking how popular young adult fiction in novels has become this decade, and I felt why not contribute to this genre with my own ideas? That is why I came up with the story of how one teenage boy on the verge of entering adulthood is put in a terrible situation during a crucial moment of his life. He is framed for something he didn’t steal and must work with his significant other in order to find out who was behind the crime. It's a classic adventure mystery story with emphasis on writing itself, as well as on the true struggles of teenagers, especially those who are trying to redeem themselves like my novel’s main protagonist. With this idea, I symbolize how commitment and actually following through with goals is what highlights the change within teenage characters.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced writing your novel?
Trying to find the right pace of the storyline was difficult, as I did not want my characters constantly targeting each other and constantly searching. That's why I made a clear outline and gave realistic imaginations for my protagonists to use in order to solve the case. I also felt there was an overwhelming number of characters in the story and had to make sure each one contributed to the plot. Because I had two main protagonists, I had to make sure they each had their backgrounds explored. It had to be done thoroughly and precisely, as they are high school characters and therefore complicated individuals.
How did you come up with your characters?
I looked into the background of different high school students from popular culture and decided to come up with my own unique characters. I found inspiration from Mean Girls, The Breakfast Club, and even Californication, the latter revolving around writing people. I thought why not have a couple of high school students that are interested in writing be part of an adventure together?
The main protagonist would be overwhelmed with trouble but always finds a way through the help of a friend. I did not want to make it cliché but I did include an authoritarian antagonist capable of doing things other characters could not. My main character Robert Spiritt is based on adventurous novelists like Hank Moody and I was eager to combine teenage drama with the genre of ‘writing within writing’ in this novel.
Where do you find your inspiration?
Various television shows regarding teens and especially writers as well. The life of a writer can be exciting even for one that is still a teen and aspiring.
Now that your first novel is done, what’s next for you?
Preparing for my next novel!
Do you have any tips for writers who want to write their first novel?
Get your imagination on the computer screen. Always keep writing.
Check out Booked! today.