A Problem of Motivation

Listening to: The Weakerthans, “Reconstruction Site”

“Throw away my misery
It never meant that much to me
It never sent a get-well card…”

No, I’m not talking about my motivation to blog lately, although that’s been sorely lacking lately, as well. What can I say, I’m going through some crap, but I’m determined to come out better on the other side.

But what I want to talk about here is character motivation.

I reached the halfway point on my second round of revisions for the latest Attempt to Write a Novel That Does Not Utterly Suck. That means that the smaller changes are all recorded on the printed MS, and the larger, more complex changes have been outlined in a separate notebook.

All except one, and that’s my main antagonist’s motivation.

Since I’m more a pantser than a plotter, I don’t really know, specifically, what my characters are going to do until it’s time for them to do it. I find that it’s much more fun–and nerve-wracking–that way. As a result, I frequently find myself going to earlier parts of the story and filling in the blanks to explain certain actions and circumstances. This, of course, is half the fun of revising. Sometimes I don’t accomplish this as well as I’d like, and one of my betas pointed out that my antagonist’s motivation for her actions is not as…compelling, I suppose, as it should be.

And here we collide head-first with one of my few pet peeves regarding first person POV. I love writing in first person, as it just suits me so much better than third. It’s much easier to capture the voice I want, and to delve deeply into my protagonist’s mindset. Of course, one important consideration that must be made when choosing perspective: is the story character-driven or plot-driven?

I kinda think mine’s a little bit of both, to be honest. That sounds like a cop-out, but I think it’s about 75% plot-driven, and the remainder is all character. So for a plot-driven novel, third-person is usually the better choice, as far as I’m concerned. It’s fairly simple, really–when plot is the driving force, a writer usually needs access to more than one point of view, and needs to report things that a single first-person narrator won’t always be privy to. Like, for instance, the antagonist’s motivation, the driving force behind her actions (beyond idle speculation, of course). Especially when the protagonist has only known the antagonist for, oh, a few days.

In this case, though, I couldn’t resist that first person voice. Once I captured the exact tone I wanted, there was no stopping me. So when I reached the end and realized that it’s never clear exactly why my antagonist does what she does…I didn’t quite know what to do.

Yes, I could insert several scenes in third person from the antagonist’s POV–it’s been done before–but in this case, I felt that would interrupt the flow of the story, disrupt the pace I’ve worked so carefully to achieve. I’m following my instincts on that one. So, I have to find another way to get her motivations across to the reader.

Once I, you know, figure them out myself. Oops, I didn’t say that. We writers are infallible, right? We never question anything, and we always know exactly what we’re doing.* If something is good, I totally did it on purpose. If something is bad–ditto.**

Not really sure how I’m going to pull this off, but I’m sure I’ll find a way. Once I’ve pulled out half the hairs in my head and given myself a *headdesk* concussion.

Wish me luck!

Now a question for my writing readers (all two of you): have you ever written a scene, or hell, even a whole plot thread, and realized when you finished that you have no idea why that character did that thing? How did you remedy it, aside from just scratching the whole thing?

*Hence all the angsty blog posts from writers all over the world, obsessing over POV and motivation and narration and chapter/paragraph/sentence length and dialog. Yeah.

**”I intentionally wrote that chapter using nothing but forms of ‘to be’, adjectives, and far too many italics. It’s supposed to make the reader think.”

One thought on “A Problem of Motivation

  1. I sit down and think. For days if necessary. And while I’m thinking, I don’t write. I just try to work it out in my head, first, and answer this question:

    “Ok, why on EARTH would she do such a thing?”

    If you are writing about Hazel, I had some ideas about her motivation that I wrote in the manuscript and will be sending to you before too much longer, I hope.

Comments are closed.