Saturday, August 28, 2010

Character Motivation

The question "Why do characters want things?" can often be rephrased as "So why exactly is there a plot?"

I've been working on a certain short story for a few days. I had most of the characters sketched out and basically knew their personalities. I'd detailed the history of the city where the story takes place, and given sparser (but enough for my purposes) history to the rest of the world. I'd figured out how the protagonist would interact with the other characters, and written some dialogue between them that looks pretty believable. I knew the primary conflict and a secondary conflict. I had gone so far as to write the climax out entirely, even though I consider that to be almost cheating.

Then I realized why I was cheating. I had no way to plot the story up to the climax, because the protagonist had no reason to get involved with any of this. There was no motivation, and everything that I could think of cram in there was . . . well . . . obviously something I just tried to cram in there.

The story isn't a complete wash, I just need to start from the characters and build my way up to a plot. Going the other direction is easier sometimes, but it results in characters that tend to be a little too vacuum-sealed to the plot. It's easy to fall into the trap, "if it's faster, it must be a good idea!" It's important to remember that characters should generate the plot, not you. (Of course, well-written characters will usually generate something pretty close to the plot you want.)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Now that's what I call a good title for the first post on a blog about writing.

There comes a time in everyone's life when they think, "Of course I can't do any serious work tonight, the lights in here are too dim. I need to buy some lamps and really make the place shine. Of course, I can't do that until payday."

If they're lucky, that monster of an excuse is enough to shock them out of complacency and into something that at least resembles work. If they're not lucky, then they may well have need to fear. Soon, entire weeks -- or months! -- will be flying by, using only a single procrastinatory excuse at a time! This is dangerous. Unlike good, old-fashioned, American procrastination, which fills its author with guilt on an hourly (or at least daily) basis, this kind of Freedom-hating nefariousness lets the procrastinator float guiltlessly away on the slacker sea.

Not that slacking is bad in and of itself. Some of the best things happen when slacking. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how much a pessimist you are), work has to be done too. So here we go. It's not that bad.

After all, it only took me a week and a half to get around to writing this post.