Motivation

What was your favorite book when you were growing up?

Mine was Three Musketeers. From the time I was 9 till about 12 years old, there was nothing greater in this world than Three Musketeers. Oh, I've read Twenty Years later, but only because I missed the characters. See, the Three Musketeers and the intrepid Gasconian don't really get a Happily Ever After. They get rather tumultuous lives, and although they fall in love, they always fall out just as quickly.

There is no lasting Twu Lowe, no happy family, no children.* At that stage in my life, I wanted everything to have a happy end.

No, as far as I was concerned, Three Musketeers was the best and the only book about D'Artagnan. Atos was my favorite character, with Cardinal Richelieu close second.

And then adolescence hit. I didn't have the worst adolescence, but it wasn't pleasant. Like most girls, I went through the ugly stage, on top of which I was labeled as a "smart kid." By fourteen, I was a ball of raging hatred. And that's when I discovered the Count of Monte Cristo.

He-he-he-he.

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Oh, yes, revenge. I fully understood desire for revenge. Disappearing for a while and then coming back and destroying people who did nasty things to you, that I could get behind. Count of Monte Cristo kicked Three Musketeers off the pedestal and proudly took the place of the greatest book ever written, because I could relate completely to Edmund Dantes' motivation. I judged his quest for punishment just and given a chance, I would help him.**

Motivation of the character is absolutely crucial to the success of the story. Give the character a proper motivation and readers will follow him to hell. The stronger the motivation, the better is the ride.

The four heroes of the Three Musketeers were motivated mostly by their noble impulses, occasionally tinted by lust and perhaps a need for revenge, but mostly they acted out of noble duty. Duty is a good motivator, but there are stronger ones. Love of others. Love of self. Hate. Revenge. Punishment. Those strong, visceral, primal emotions that propel us through life.

Aside from the spike in adolescence, we rarely experience extremely strong emotions. Honestly, when was the last time, you hate someone so much you could actually see yourself killing them? Most of us stop short of outright hatred or all-consuming crushes. But we all had experienced these emotions, and we want to taste them again.

However, picking the right emotion is only half of the battle. The motivation must ring true, or the reviewers will throw the book against the wall, with exclamation of "WTF!"

How do you know if the character's motivations are strong and true enough? Here is how I do it, and what works for me may not work for you.

Motivations come in two flavors: reactive and proactive.

Reactive motivations occur in response to something the villain did. Mysteries, revenge stories, and rebellion plot lines would be most obvious examples. In this type of story, typically, the protagonist exists in a relative comfort and then the villain does Something Heinous to the character or to someone he cares about. The hero then feels compelled to do something about it. Kidnapped relative, an innocent murdered, etc.

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The plot line can be summarized like this:

1) Everything is fine, tra-la-la-la, hero is content
2) Heinous Act!
3) Everything Goes to Hell
4) Hero gets a big stick and goes to Right the Wrong

Monte Cristo, FTW! So if this is your kind of story, I check my villains. I try t make their acts so bad, so awful, so frightening, that the reader becomes personally investing in nuking them.

Proactive motivations usually pop up when the protagonist already exists in a state of relative misery and he sees an opportunity to climb out of the hole.

The plot is somewhat like this:

1) Everything is awful, hero is content
2) Thing that could make everything better appears
3) Hero seizes the opportunity
4) Heroic Struggle ensues

Romance stories are typically proactive: two people encounter each other, become attracted, and strive to be together.

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(Or, to be more accurate, in romance one member of the leading couple, typically the man, spends a great deal of energy to convince the other member of the couple, typically the woman, that they ought to be together. For the reverse example of this, with woman being the pursuer, please see Nalini Singh's Caressed by Ice.)

Other examples include social climb stories; a lot of fantasies employ this method: a thief girl becomes the ruler of the city, a new governor arrives to a planet to find it in total disarray and must now put it together, etc. Fool's Company by Asprin is a very good example.

If this is my type of story, I try to make sure that the hero is likeable enough and miserable enough in the beginning. This is a double-edged sword, however, because if you make the hero very likeable, you have to make sure that the object of his/her desire is deserving of the hero's attentions.

This concludes my enormous diatribe on motivation. :passes out:

______________

*I couldn't even stomach Vimcomte de Bragelonne. I can't go into why due to spoilers. Let's just say no Happy Ending.

**Yes, I'm a scary, vindictive bitch. :raises hands: Meh, what are you going to do?

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