Deepest Longing

When I was a child I didn’t yearn for dolls or fancy dresses. I wanted to feel special, to feel loved. To be treated as an equal to my older brother.

As a teen I wanted social acceptance which was never going to happen because I dressed in old-fashioned homemade clothes. On top of that I was painfully shy. When I realized that college might be an option, I yearned to go anywhere that got me out of the home.

As you can see, my longings had to do with being loved, being accepted and escaping home.

Your characters must have yearnings that compel their interests and desires. These yearnings need to be so powerful that the reader senses them and identifies with them. They also must present fairly early in the work so as to establish the motivations behind what your character says and does.

Your task is to take a character that will appear in a story. Put the name at the top of the page. Then create a list of at least five yearnings that would drive that individual’s actions.

Choose the most dynamic thing on the list. The one that could spur the most controversy. Maybe even get your character in trouble.

Begin writing, keeping in mind that the yearning appears early on. Do not directly state the yearning, but rather find a way to show it through dialogue or action.

Reread. Does it shine forth? Can you feel the character’s desires?

Have fun with this one.


Ulterior Motives

I enjoy the reality show Survivor because the players are constantly working towards goals. From the beginning, they try to form alliances that they feel will benefit them as they play the game. The motive is to create a voting block that will keep them on day after day.

They also have to build shelter and fire in order to survive the elements and to eat. On many days they compete in games that test physical stamina as well as the ability to outwit a mental challenge. The motive to win is huge. Not just for the glory of winning, but to get the prize, which can be in the form of food, means of survival, as well as not being forced to vote someone off of the team.

Ulterior motives are not just the thing of games, but of real life. We perform for a variety of reasons. Sometimes we do things just because we want to, but many times it’s because we yearn for something in return.

For example, a person runs for elected office in order to win, not just to see their name in the news and on the ballot.

The dating game is all about ulterior motives. Two strangers meet, size each other up, talk a bit to establish if there are any common grounds, all with the motive of going out on a date. The eventual outcome could be falling in love and getting married.

Our characters must also have ulterior motives or they are not fully developed. Three-dimensional people make decisions based on perceived outcomes. So must your characters.

Let’s say you’re writing a thriller in which someone dies. Why? What was the purpose of the death? Is your character the murderer or the one who will solve the crime? In order to find out who did it, the detective must be able to analyze the motive for the crime.

Your task is to take something that you’ve written and reread, looking for places where ulterior motive drives the action. If you cannot find any, then you must rewrite.

Start with the first page. Somewhere within those words the reader needs to understand what drives the main character to action. If that information is missing, put it in.

But don’t stop there. Throughout the piece we need to see the motives change as the situation changes. Don’t barrage us with motives, but find a way to keep us informed.

Seeing motive unfold drives the story forward and keeps the reader entranced.

Have fun with this one!



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.