I have three things taped to my desk. A picture of my character from my current WIP that my friend Natalie was kind enough to draw for me, a map of what I call the ice-cream-cone diagram of my current WIP, which sadly, I cannot share on blogs, and possibly the most helpful thing of all - a Motivation Map. Without it my book would die a tragic death. Tragic, tragic, tragic.
I made this map a few weeks ago, and it has transformed the way I write. It opened a thousand doors. It revealed plot holes I never thought could exist. It gave me the opportunity to dangle carefully placed carrots in front of my characters, immediately giving my scenes more tension and direction.
This map isn't anything special at all. It's a flow chart that goes something like this:
Character Motivation + What Character Needs to Get What He Wants = Character's Main Action = Chain Reaction of Events Based on the Main Action
Seems simple enough, right? Guess again. I spent two days figuring out my character's motivations! And this is my third draft of the book - a complete rewrite this time around. You'd think I would know my character motivations, but it was surprisingly difficult. I suddenly saw why my book had major problems. As an example, here's the beginning of my main character's motivation chart. It changes sometimes. Well, lately, it's changed a lot as I shape my book into what I want. That's the beauty of mapping. It can change. All. The. Time.
Nick wants a second chance with Lilian and his daughters + Nick needs the bad guys gone and Catarina on his side in order to clear his name and ensure a new start = Nick goes to Lilian for safety = Nick gets his daughters to the inn for safety = Nick goes to Brazil to find Jeffrey and Catarina = and on and on and on
Everything's driven by Nick's main motivation. That motivation has to be clear, and it needs to stay present in every scene of the book.
It's pretty simple, really. Maybe I'm the only one who doesn't know my character motivations very well, but I'd challenge you to do this with every one of your main characters, even secondary characters. It was difficult for me to pin my character motivations into a small phrase, probably because they are complex beings with complex desires. Boiling it down feels unnatural, almost, like I'm not giving my character enough credit for his drastic actions.
My point here is that once you know that main motivation, use it. That's the carrot you use to drive the tension in your scenes. Rip the carrot away to drive your characters to the edge. So much fun.
Question For The Day: How well do you know your character motivations? Are you willing to map it out and see if you know them as well as you thought you did?
~MDA (aka Glam)