Establishing Motive

I recently attended a workshop at a conference in Fort Bragg, California. My leader, James W. Hall, is a published author and college professor of writing.

He reminded me that every character in a story has to want something, and that want is what compels the character to act. Once that want is fulfilled, then the character has to want something new, which now inspires action. And so on.

All too often we forget about this driving force. Without it, our stories go nowhere. Our characters are flat and uninspiring. There is no tension, and without tension, our readers are bored.

Your task is to reread something that you’ve written, but find troubling. You’ve known that something about it isn’t working and have tried rewriting without success.

Examine your characters, both primary and secondary. Protagonist and antagonist. Does each of them want something? Is each challenged to reach their goals? If not, then you need to find a way to fix it.

First, brainstorm a list of possible goals for each character. If you discover a character who exists only to give the protagonist someone to talk to, either eliminate the character or change his importance in the story.

After you’ve created your lists, choose primary goals for each character. Then rewrite, starting at the beginning. Constantly check your work, making sure to stay faithful to your goals.

When you’re finished, reread. Does your story now have tension? Do actions match goals? Are all characters important?

Hopefully this is so.

Have fun with this one.

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