5 Tips for Improving Goal & Motivation

Here are 5 tips for handling goals and motivations in your story (this is excerpted from my Sensational Scenes class that starts tomorrow, Wed 9/22):

1. Choose goals/motivations that are human. The more emotionally based they are, the more compelling. In the advertising/marketing world there are only so many core human needs to appeal to: Love, hope, power (sex, money, status), and youth/beauty. Mercedes sells power, while VW sells youth.

2. Be sure your goal/motivation is crystal clear. You don’t need to restate it in every scene, but it should be clear to the reader that we are either progressing toward or regressing from goals at hand. Motivations likewise may ebb and flow according to urgency of the current situation, but should always be present and accounted for.

EXAMPLE: The character is locked in a mortuary with no cell, but needs to get to her wedding that you’ve been setting up for four chapters. We understand the goal, so doesn’t need to be stated that she needs a key, or a sledgehammer.

3. Make your conflict/tension count. The argument your characters just had should either move them forward in their relationship, or set them back – both must occur in ways that are appropriate to where the scene plays in the story overall (NOTE: Act I vs. Act III arguments should be different). Don’t throw a gun in the scene just for titillation.

4. Vary the conflict/tension at the core of your goals/motivations. If your married couple is fighting about sex in every scene, the reader is going to tell them to call their divorce attorneys and set the book down. If we are running from the bad guys every second, we’re going to get a headache and wish we’d been shot already.

5. Vary your motivations. Internal (I need love) or external (I need a gun). Dysfunctional (I need love with a gun) and healthy (I’ll take the love, leave the gun). Personal (I need a job to make money for my operation) or vicarious (I need to make money to send that foster kid to school). Passionate (I’ve got to have that man in MY bed) or dispassionate (I’ll take out the garbage to please my wife, just to keep her out of MY bed).

When goals and motivations ring loud and clear for the reader, and ring TRUE to them on a human level, readers will connect to your characters and story more intimately.

Good luck and get motivated reaching your goals!

Turn Tone on Its Head

Turning tone on its head can prove effective in creating more engaging stories, but difficult to achieve. One area to try this is character voice.

Consider the na├»ve narrator in Platoon. He's young, un-tested, unhardened in the opening. His soft voice sets up the audience to be wary, because we immediately see the juxtaposition of his tone/experience against the violent situation of the Viet Nam war. So we know he’s about to have a wake-up call.

Later he talks like a philosopher, lilting like a melancholy diary passage, as the screen shows men being gunned down. He's graduated to a spiritual voice, but viewers are still experiencing violence. This tells us he's numb.

Or consider Hannibal Lector, who was at times is romantic and whimsical about his descriptions of eating humans. Turning his POV tone on it's head and juxtapositioning it with context made him that much creepier.

So go play with your characters and see how you can turn their tone on its head and surprise your reader.