Thursday, 20 April 2017

Saving The Scene 101: Character Motivations

I know, I know, it's been awhile.

I've been slinging words every day for Camp NaNo and blogging has been bottom of my priority list. However, today I had an epiphany, and I just had to share it with the good people of the Kingdom of Creative Writing.

Have you ever written a scene or chapter that just felt flat? Maybe even one that should feel exciting, but no matter how much you kneaded it, you couldn't get it to rise any higher than a crepe?

I have.

That is, I am.

Chapter Twenty-Two (shudder)

I have three of the best critique partners I could wish for, and they are all waiting for chapter twenty-two. Chapters twenty-three through thirty-two are written, revised, edited, and ready to see the light of day, but twenty-two... well, shudder.

Oh, sorry. I mentioned that.

Today's post is brought to you courtesy of a Major Revelation. After weeks of agonising over chapter twenty-two, I finally understood the root of the problem.

See, chapter twenty-two was destined for great things. Chapter twenty-two could be considered the cherry on the top of the sundae of Act Two. Chapter twenty-two is when my protagonist meets her birth father, who gave her up for adoption when she was a baby. (The birth father is also in prison for murder, and the protagonist is trying to discover why she has superhuman strength.) So yeah, chapter twenty-two should be awesome.

Why did it underwhelm me to the point of being physically incapable of sending it out into the wide world?

Problems with character motivation.

The issue with characters is that they are extremely volatile beings. Sometimes they are so strong-willed that they take the decisions right out of our writer hands, and sometimes they are limper than a wet spaghetti. When they aren't shouting from the rooftops what they want and the measures they'll take to get there, they can be found sulking in a corner, without any desires at all.

So back to my scene. The protagonist is sorted. I've been walking, swimming, riding motorbikes in her shoes for far too many months. She's also the POV character so yeah, listen up people. Everyone knows what she wants from this long-overdue encounter.

But the birth dad?

Not so much.

And it all comes down to motivations, people. Not his motivation twenty plus years ago when he gave up his daughter, but his motivation today, going into this reunion. And today, it finally hit me that this was the issue with my scene. Everybody in a scene needs to want something.

Yup, everybody. Not just the main character whose motivations you probably know better than your own. But everybody else.

The problem is, I knew this. I know it. My WIP is riddled with opposing agendas. I knew they all needed motivation. But when it came down to this particular scene, I was counting on the setup to bring all the greatness, when the greatness would only come when I figured out what that character sitting across from my MC really wanted.

Now I know.

And now I'm going to go write it.

What about you, writers? Ever written a scene that felt flat? Was a lack of character motivation the issue, or something entirely different? Leave a comment below!