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Thursday, October 3, 2013

"God as my witness, I want to be like that again."

by Jodi Henley
Motivation doesn’t always need to be explained. The existence of motivation works to hold your story on the straight and narrow. When you choose an event as your character’s motivation you set into motion a thousand later choices. The best way to picture it would be to think of a family tree. Each family tree starts with one set of people, and those people have children, who later have children.

There are a lot of branches that all start from the same point. Who you choose to follow to the present time (the end of your story) determines your path. You can’t skip from Janey on the left side of the chart to Paul on the far right without backtracking to a point where you “can” cross over. However, you “can” make a huge number of choices within your predetermined line of descent. If Janey has eight kids, any one of those kids can be followed to the next generation, and any one of her children’s kids can be followed to the generation after that. The story is level because you “can’t” make a choice that isn’t contained by Janey’s bloodline without creating believability issues or going back to the original pair to make another choice (picking different motivation).
The choice is important, and so is your character’s “emotional reaction” to that choice.
In Gone with the Wind, Scarlett’s motivation (for the second half) happens when she vows she’ll never be hungry again. Mitchell could have simply chosen to have a lady drive past in her fine carriage. Scarlett, trudging along in the dirt, looks up and says, “I want to be like that again!”

Even with the exclamation point, the “umphf” simply isn’t there. It’s a workable choice. Scarlett was a fine lady; she had a nice carriage, she hates being poor. It’s okay. But, both the magnitude of the event that drives her motivation and Scarlett’s reaction to the event create a different set of probable story choices.

There’s a huge, huge difference between, “God as my witness, I will NEVER be hungry again!” and “I want to be like that again!”

Watch Scarlett's Reaction HERE

One is the carpenter’s level for the story of a woman rushing headlong to destruction, and the other is the nice story of a woman who’ll try her darnedest to rise to a comfortable position, and will probably discover the value of friendship and working with others.

Did the directors need to show Scarlett’s motivation for part two?

It’s a highlight of the movie, and a great piece of drama, but it doesn’t need to be shown if there’s a break in the continuity so the reader understands “something happened” that changed Scarlett or it happens before the story starts. Characters don’t exist in a vacuum. Something happened to make your character the way he or she is. Showing motivation is a voice issue which comes out of the choices you make in how you write your story.

Even without Scarlett’s defining scene, knowing what it is, how it impacted her, and how it predetermines her later choices keeps the story on track. Your character’s motivation might be invisible, but the story that flows out of your choice works to keep it moving in the direction you want.

More About the Author

Jodi Henley is a developmental editor based in the Seattle area. Highly sought after for her ability to handle difficult or unusual character-driven stories, Jodi is a craft of writing geek. Her obsessive Myer-Briggs INTJ personality drives her to explain her findings, and she considers herself lucky to have a receptive audience. A long-time blogger and workshop presenter, her book, Practical Emotional Structure is a fixture on the top hundred Amazon writing skills bestseller list.

Find out more about the author:  BLOG   FACEBOOK

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Daniel Efosa Uyi said...

hey nice post meh, I love your style of blogging here. this post reminded me of an equally interesting post that I read some time ago on Daniel Uyi's blog: Fear Of Continuity .
keep up the good work friend. I will be back to read more of your posts.


NLB said...

This post was eye opening. I always wondered what motivates a writer to do this job! The video brought back memories, too. Thanks for sharing!