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Seriously? They did what?

Guy Fieri, Season Two Winner of The Next FoodNetwork Star, as shown on the The Food Network.

Guy Fieri, Season Two Winner of The Next FoodNetwork Star, as shown on the The Food Network.

I’m all about the character. I write character driven stories, so I’m always looking at people and wondering what makes them tick. Why do they do the things they do? What drives them? I especially wonder this when one of my characters, like the one in my current WIP, is being somewhat uncooperative. I began re-thinking her motivation, when I remembered this post I’d written early last year. Since I was slated to post soon, I decided to pull it out of the archives and reprint it–with a slight change at the end.

Original post:  I’m not a Reality TV Junkie, but I do enjoy watching couples race around the world, cook their way to stardom, and survive in meager conditions. Whether it’s dancing, singing, looking for a mate, mining for coal, digging for gold, hunting for alligators, or driving across ice roads, these players/contestants have one goal in mind—to win the prize. It doesn’t matter if the prize is wealth, a record deal, or a shot at a television show. They all want to walk away the winner. In that respect, they are the same. Where the difference comes in is their motivation or reason for wanting the prize and to what lengths they’ll go to obtain it.

Let’s take a look at these characters, er, I mean contestants. Most, if not all shows, give us a mixture of personalities from the hateful to the naïve. If we are not family, friends, or acquaintances of these people pre-reality stardom, then we usually assume who we see on television is who these people are in their everyday lives. For example, is the arrogant, bitchy Beauty Queen truly heartless? Is the humble, caring Sweetheart Darling from Next Door as perfect as she seems? From their behavior, how can we believe anything less than that?

As the show progresses, we discover the Beauty Queen is really a charitable woman who gives endless hours feeding the hungry, knitting blankets for the homeless, and teaching underprivileged children. Who knew? Right? As she tearfully stares into the camera, she tells the world she must win the prize so she can make a difference in the lives of others. Her motivation to achieve her goal drives her to lying, cheating, and backstabbing. (Yes, I’m being dramatic. It’s called entertainment.) On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Sweetheart coats every request with honey and does whatever she can to make others comfortable. She charms her fellow players, the camera, and the television audience. We later learn that in her everyday life, she’s a serial killer. She needs the prize money to escape to Brazil. (Don’t look at me like that. It’s TV. Remember?)

I took the above examples to the extreme, but motivation is a powerful tool. It can bring out the best and the worst in people. It will force people to do things they wouldn’t normally do. It’s true in life and it’s true in our books. Our job as writers is to convince our readers that our character’s motivation is substantial enough to drive them out of their comfort zone. People have different motivations for wanting the same thing. What drives my character may not be what drives your character. There is no right or wrong motivation as long as you lay out the groundwork and then have your characters make choices based on their goal(s) and motivation(s). Throw a little urgency into the mix and you’ll have a reader who’s not only involved in your story, but believes he/she would do the same thing under similar circumstances.

MODIFICATION:  In the original post, I asked you to Name the Motivation by providing you with the beginning of a statement made by a character from the series Gold Rush, which is shown on the Discovery Network.  This time, I’d like to try something different. Let’s make it personal. We all have multiple writing goals. Long-term. Short-term. Career goals. Finish-the-damn-book goal. Get a multimillion dollar contract goal. Word count goal. Page count goal. It doesn’t matter. Pick one of your writing goals and finish this statement: I want to <insert goal> because <insert why>, and I’m willing to do <insert ways to make it happen>.

I’ll go first:  I want to write at least twenty-five pages a week because I’m ready to finish this book and submit it. To do this, I am willing to let the dishes sit in the sink, leave non-perishable groceries on the bar, set a schedule for checking and replying to email, and stop cruising the internet (including hours of Facebook).  I set this goal for myself last week to give me a jump start back into my writing. Dishes in the sink and items on the bar may not seem like much to some, but it’s one of my quirks. Clean sink. Clear bar. Result: 25 pages!  :-)

Now, tell me yours.

18 Responses to “Seriously? They did what?”

  1. Elisa Beatty says:

    This is such a great post, June. My husband and I just bought a used car (on a very tight budget), and I’ve got to say that’s another venue for observing human beings (from used car salesmen to private sellers on Craigslist) and what they’re willing to do to achieve their goals. Sheesh–some of it wasn’t very pretty.

    As to my personal writing goals, I’m staring down the barrel of the start of the new school year without having achieved my summer writing goals. I’m desperately wanting to finish the last revisions on my WIP, but time is very short. I was thinking about the discussion we had here last week about getting up at 4:30 in the morning to get an hour to write. Maybe this school year I have to try to do that. I’m not sure I’m physically capable of it, but that’s what I’m willing to do.

    • June Love says:

      Elisa, I’m a morning person, and I did the getting up at 4:30 to write before work. However, I did not have children and I wasn’t teaching school. When I taught school, I got up at 4:30, but I did it just to stay caught up with school work. I had three different preps, chairman of my department, and was responsible for adapting our curriculum to the new state test requirements. I’m not sure of all your school duties, but rarely do I hear of a teacher who only teaches and nothing else. I don’t think I could’ve done it if I was still writing. In fact, I know I couldn’t have. We’ll have to get together one day and compare teaching stories.

      Good luck with your goal. I hope you can do this, however, don’t neglect your health in the process. :-)

  2. Hope Ramsay says:

    Hi June, this is such a good post. Motivation is so important to building three-dimensional characters. I always think through motivation for my characters, and I also think of one other thing — and that’s the barrier standing between the character and the goal they are willing to sacrifice everything for. So in a reality show, the The Beauty Queen is trying to win the cash to give to the poor, and the Girl Next Door not only plans to get her voted off the island, but is plotting her murder just in case Beauty Queen wins it all. Now you’ve got a story. :)

    As for writing goals. I just sat down to write my weekly to do list, and right there at the top of the list are two writing goals: 1) write a proposal for more Last Chance books and 2) write a proposal for a whole new series. Right now I’m sacrificing my gym time, and time spent weeding the garden. Not much of a sacrifice, actually.

    • June Love says:

      Wow, Hope. The Beauty Queen can either lose and live, or win and die. What a web you weave. lol

      That’s great that you’ve got your goals listed for the week. I make a To Do list each week, but until last week, I never put my writing goals on it. I know…how crazy was that? New series…interesting.

      I’ve been sacrificing gym time to get me back into the groove of writing so many hours a day. Eventually, I’ll have to let something else go so I can head back to the gym.

  3. Great post, June! I believe authors can have their characters do ANYTHING if they give them strong enough motivation. I’m thinking of that mountain climber in the news a few years ago who cut off his own arm. No one in their right mind would do that. However, if it was the only way to stay alive, would you? You betcha.

    I want to publish another book by the end of October so I can enter it in the Rita contest. I’m willing to give up watching TV to do it.

    • June Love says:

      Laurie, that’s it in a nutshell. Having strong enough motivation.

      Staying alive and keeping someone else alive are definitely two things that would make people do unbelievable things.

    • June Love says:

      I forgot to say that I admire your goal and what a sacrifice you’re making. I remember giving up television one year when I was working on my first book. I loved writing that book so much that I didn’t care I wasn’t watching tv at night.

      It’s my opinion that my husband and I watch too much television. His opinion is that since we record a lot of programs and watch when it’s convenient for us means tv is not controlling our lives. I don’t argue with him because I do have a few shows that I love watching. :-)

  4. Jenn! says:

    Wow. Great post, June! Right now, my goal is to get caught up. I have too many irons in the fire, both in my career and in my home life. My goal is to take one iron out at a time. Makes life a little less chaotic, and also gives me a sense of accomplishment.

    Jenn!

    • June Love says:

      Jenn, I think you’re on the right track. One iron at a time. It is because of doing just that I am able to put focus back on my writing. I realized I had so much going on, so much hanging over my head, and so many people pulling me in different directions, that I finally sat down and made a long list. I prioritized it, then I began crossing things off. One item at a time. Honestly, it’s what help me regain some balance in my life. Good luck, Jenn!

      • Jenn! says:

        That’s what I do, June. I write a to-do list everyday. It’s something I’ve been doing most of my adult life.
        Good luck to you, too! :-D

  5. Timely post for me, June. I have a book deadline of 9/30, when all of the edits and such should be completely done. After that, I have 3 other projects clamoring for my attention and was trying to figure out how to balance that. Like Jenn said, I have to choose one and focus. So… I want to finish the first book in a new series because I want to submit that to publishers who might be able to give me more of a “print presence.” I’m willing to give up some sleep for a few weeks to make it happen.

    • June Love says:

      You do have a lot going on, Anne Marie. I know a lot of people who thrive on multitasking, others who do it out of necessity, then there are some like me, who do better concentrating on a single task.

      This is true for me in my writing life and my every day life. It was also true when I worked 40 hours outside the home. I’m a one-thing-at-a-time person. When it builds up, I stress.

  6. Tamara Hogan says:

    We just completed performance appraisal season at my day job, and one of the things we’re required to do as part of the process is to establish SMART goals. SMART goals are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. Perhaps inevitably, this practice has carried over into my writing life; I am ruthlessly practical about goals. To me, anything that isn’t within my control to achieve is not a goal. It’s a wish or a dream – which are important, don’t get me wrong – but I have no control over being offered a big-buck advance, or my book hitting a list. I think this distinction helps me focus on the things I CAN DO instead of the things I can’t. It’s one of the reasons the transition from traditional to indie publishing has been such a positive experience for me so far. CONTROL IS MINE, ALL MINE! {{rubs hands together, villain-like}} Bwah-ha-ha!!!

    My short-term goal: complete revisions, copy-editing and page proofing on my TEMPT ME manuscript by end of day Sunday, Sept. 1.

    In terms of other corporate practices that have attempted to transfer into my life, let it be known that I REFUSED to write a “personal mission statement” at a chronic pain clinic I recently visited. I think I sprained my eyeballs rolling them so hard. Just…no.

    So, June (tough love ahead): in terms of your 25 page a week goal…do you WANT to write 25 pages a week, or SHALL YOU? Word choice is important, right? I say YOU SHALL. ;-)

    • June Love says:

      I get the feeling you’re really enjoying your indie control. :-)

      I’ve heard of SMART goals. I’m thinking it was from you, but it may have been my husband. He has to do goal stuff for work. At any rate, I’ve started practicing SMART goals. I’ve learned a few things about myself in the process. Not all good things, but that’s okay. Tough love is a huge learning opportunity…and, yes, I SHALL…

      I’m with on the personal mission statement at a doctor’s office. Seriously? I’m sure they had their reasons, but seriously????

  7. Rita Henuber says:

    I recently had the goals discussion with a newbie author. I believe you cannot meet your primary goal with out numerous secondary goals.
    Today I want to edit a 100 pages because I need to and I’m willing to do stay up until it happens.

  8. Gwyn says:

    I won’t fill it out because, to be honest, I don’t know. So many things demand my time these days, but I also want to enter Book 3 of the Merlin’s Prophecy series in the GH as well as one Sci-Fi. As Piccard would say, “Make it so!”

    • June Love says:

      I always loved it when he said that. I know when life demands our attention, we must listen. I hope your life settles down soon.

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