Character motivation is possibly the most important aspect of narrative writing. Without character motivation, there’s no plot. And while narrative art without plot does exist (just ask Dziga Vertov or Godfrey Reggio) most books, films, tv shows, stage productions, and other things that we tend to associate with the art of language (as opposed to visual or musical art) has some kind of plot. And the most basic of these plots? Character wants something, has to overcome obstacles to get it, and either succeeds or fails. Luke Skywalker wants an adventure, he leaves the planet, blows up a Death Star, and becomes a hero. Indiana Jones wants to find the Ark of the Covenant, he contacts an old girlfriend, flies to Egypt, and the Nazi’s faces melt. Prince Hamlet wants to avenge his father’s murder, he grapples with his mental illness, distances himself from his social circle, and then kills King Claudius, but dies in the process.
Character motivations can change over the course of a story, usually as a “be careful what you wish for” kind of thing. You also can have unmotivated characters that are notable in their lack of motivation. But most plot consists of the motivation of the protagonist coming directly into conflict with the motivation of the antagonist, or the motivation of society, or the motivation of the universe itself sometimes. Figuring out your protagonist’s motivation is entangled in the plot and conflict of the story.
I’m going to look at a few different stories with varying complexity in terms of motivations and how they work, because unlike my other writing advice, figuring out your own character’s motivation is individual to your character and story. You can list a million different stories that have a million different characters with a million different motivations. I’m looking at these stories, but there are plenty more examples to look at if you’re having trouble.
That said, here are some examples.
What is Plot Structure?
valeriemclean1919 Five-Act Structure, Moana, Plot, Plot Structure, Plotting, Three-Act Structure, William Shakespeare, Writing About Writing 0 Comments
So, we have setting, we have characters, now you want something to happen to them. These things that happen are plot and story.
When it comes to writing, your plot and story might develop concurrently, or you start with a plot and the story comes as you’re writing it, or you know what story you want to write and you try to write a plot around that. Basically, this is a disclaimer that while we will be talking about plot structure and discuss specific plot points in these structures, this discussion is more about theoretical frame work and thinking about how plot is structured in preexisting media than it is about how to create a plot. That’s not to say that you can’t use these as reference– think of it like a mac and cheese recipe. The overall product is recognizable, but maybe you baked yours in the oven as opposed to doing it on the stove top, or maybe you used Velveeta instead of actual cheese. The process that you use to get there is more important than making sure that it fits a specific outline. Furthermore, you’re not going to find a writer or storyteller that will tell you to sacrifice story for plot. Maybe you decide to throw bacon in with the mac and cheese, or want to try using blue cheese or feta instead of cheddar or Colby. If the story is pulling you in one direction, follow it. Even if you end up turning back later, you’ll have learned something about your writing instincts and what you want out of a story.
That being said, having an idea of where you’re going when you start can help guide that process.