Monday, January 31, 2011

May I have a Glass of Water?

A little while back, I learned that there is an important concept in fiction that I had not grasped. I don’t know if I understand it now, but at least I know that I am aware.
If a character does not have motivation, your story will be without direction and even without believability. All your characters must want something. The place where I learned this referred me to Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Rules For Writing Fiction. Go look it up if you will, it’s good stuff.
But anyway, Vonnegut’s third rule is this:
Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
Why is your hero running around, trying to save the world? Because he wants a safe place to live. Why is the heroine running from the vampires? Because she wants to live.
Motivation will make your characters come to life. When they want something, it will drive them to do things you hadn’t even thought of. It will also give you something to aim at. A character will aim to reach what he or she wants, and do pretty much anything to get there.
However, there will be things that your character does not want. This will cause them to run away from whatever they don’t want, perhaps altering a straight course to the thing they want.
When you put those two together, you have an ending. I think it was Holly Lisle who said that in most stories, the hero must overcome that which he fears (or does not want) to get to that which he does want (his goal).
Obviously, this does not apply for every story, but it is generally applicable in some or other way.
Another important factor of this rule of Vonnegut is the word every. Not just the main characters should have wants. The villain should definitely want something, but also the secondary and minor characters. It’s not a problem if you have a flat shopkeeper that appears once in your story, but every character that has anything to do with the progression of the story should want something.
In the end, it is all about motivation. If you want something, it will drive you to action. Action leads to conflict (especially if your character is avoiding something) and conflict makes stories. Don’t just let things happen to your hero and then he just gets dragged along. Give him something to aim for, and he will come alive before your eyes.

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