Monday, March 30, 2009

Why would you do that?

I’m in the middle of revisions and I’m having difficulty with characters doing things that don’t make a lot of sense. Why? Because, they’re confused. They don’t know why they’re doing these things. They’re basically just doing what they’re told to do, because I made the mistake of interfering in their lives. I’ve led them to do what I wanted them to do, instead of the way it should be, them leading the way and me following along. Why? Because, I didn’t get deep enough into their characters to know their real motivations. 

I wrote this story over a year ago. I really had no clue about motivation at that time. I’ve learned so much since then, yet I know I still have a long way to go. So, today, I’ve decided to blog about motivation. Not only do I hope this will help you, but I also think it will help me get a clearer picture in my head. 

People do things for a reason, even if they don’t know what that reason is. Everything we do, we do it because something inside us is guiding our actions. We all have needs. Some are more important than others. For example, if we’re starving, we’re not going to worry about our love life. We’re going to worry about finding food. You have to meet your basic needs before you can worry about others. This is the basis of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. I’ve included a basic diagram below to show which needs are the most important.

As you can see, the lower level is the largest, and the most important. You have to have this foundation before you can move up to the higher needs. Without it, the pyramid would collapse. 

So, why do I have my characters doing things when really, they should be doing others? Because, I didn’t follow the rules. I haven’t met the more basic needs first. No, I don’t have my characters starving, but I do have them worrying about things that are less important to them at that particular time. No wonder they’re confused. I would be, too. 

I have to step back and find out what their goals are. Once I know that, I can find the motivation behind it. If their goal is to keep their job, then I need to know what motivates them to reach that goal. Why do they want to keep their job? Is it because they need it for food, bills, living expenses? Well, yes, to one degree that’s why we all work, right? But, why this job? Why can’t they just find another job? There are other jobs out there. Okay, I’m not talking about the economy here, I know it’s bad, but that’s another story. Why do they need to keep this particular job? Maybe it’s a job with the family business. They don’t want to let their family down. That’s a higher level need, and as long as they’re basic needs are met, then they might worry about that. As long as there’s food on the table, then these other motivations can be important to them. 

So, my character wants to keep her job. Her motivation isn’t that she’s starving, but that she fears it. She grew up without her most basic needs being cared for. She never knew if they would be met, or not. So, she fears being without. That’s one motivation. 

Right now, though, those needs are being met. So, why this job? It provides her with respect, something else she never received at home. Could she find that at a different job? Yes, but not as quickly. She’s worked her way up through the company. If she loses this job, she’ll have to start over, which means she’ll lose the respect she’s already gained. She doesn’t want to lose that. That’s another motivation.

Okay, so she has two motivations, which one is more important? The first one is, because it’s a basic need. She’s not going to worry about respect if she’s too concerned about needing food. If she leaves this job to find another, she might lose respect, but she might also make less money. She’ll have less for food and bills. That is more important to her than the loss of respect. In tough times, we have to do what’s most important to us at the time, even if it does cause embarrassment. We have to forgo our pride to meet our basic needs. 

My hero, on the other hand, wants to solve a crime. Why? Because that’s what he was hired to do. Why this particular crime? His motivation isn’t as basic. He doesn’t worry about needing food or lodging. His motivation is also a respect desire. He wants to be respected for his work. After becoming injured in the military, he was unable to pursue his dream of becoming a cop, like his dad and brother. So, he has to win respect as a security specialist. He doesn’t think he’ll ever be able to measure up because he doesn’t wear “the uniform”. So, solving as many crimes as possible gives him the self-respect he wouldn’t have otherwise. Even though his family doesn’t look down on him, he looks down on himself. And, he thinks maybe they don’t respect him as much as they say.

His motivation isn’t as strong as the heroine’s because it’s not as basic of a need. The stronger the need, the stronger the motivation. The stronger the motivation, the better the story. If both of their motivations were weak, the story would fail. Nobody wants to read a story with weak motivations. We read to escape. If the problems faced by the hero/heroine are less than mine, why would I want to read about it? They need to be facing difficulties strong enough to makes me root for them. They need to have a strong enough motivation to get through those difficulties. Otherwise, why would I bother to care?

What do you think? Would you care about characters whose motivations are weak? How do you get deep into your characters motivations? Leave a comment and let me know what you think.


MK Mancos/Kathleen Scott/Kate Davison said...

Good old Maslow. I actually use him quite a bit in the book Scythe.

Good post, Sierra.


Mark Alders said...

I have never seen that before...Well, you live and learn :-)

Good thought provoking post once more, Sierra.


Sierra Wolfe said...

Thanks. I'm glad you all liked it!

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