No motivation!

Published by: Squidge on 9th Oct 2017 | View all blogs by Squidge

 I have a BIG problem in my editing at the moment... 

No, I'm not talking about MY motivation for actually writing.

It's my MC. She has no motivation. Eeeek! So it feels like I've got to find out what the heck it is before I can really finish this blasted novel by writing something in.

I've blogged about it on The Scribbles, but I'd be interested to know if any cloudies have had the same problem before - and how did you crack putting motivation in, in retrospect?

Ta, Squidge 




  • Yo
    by Yo 9 months ago
    What does she get motivated by? What does she get de-motivated by? Do more of the one and less of the other and hey presto you have a motivated MC.
  • Squidge
    by Squidge 9 months ago
    But that's the thing. I have no idea. She (well, he originally) was just written into a story, a sequence of events. Back then, I didn't even consider character development or motivation! I know she's angry, but that anger won't eplain why she's in the situations she's in and doing the things she's doing...
  • JtF
    by JtF 9 months ago
    Dear Squidge, don't worry as this is a common problem flying in the very faces of writers but rarely discussed. It's a bloody cheek that something that owes its very existence to you can be so belligerent; often going against trend; exploring undisclosed avenues or playing against type. I find myself shouting "characters have to act in character" yet I'm rewarded with a two fingered gesture to the literati and an automatic alarm to check my physic distance (esp when reversing!) Such fuss and bother !! I guess it's why they call it "Killing your babies!"
    PS: maybe the real use of AI is to create a MC that writes itself. Best ~ JtF
  • Yo
    by Yo 9 months ago
    Hint at it?

    'Judy, could feel her embarrassment turning to anger. Just like that day as a 12-year-old when her mother flashed her tits to the milkman.'
  • bazbaron
    by bazbaron 9 months ago
    I've commented on your blog, Squidgers (read first) and PM'd with part 2.
  • Squidge
    by Squidge 9 months ago
    Ta Baz. Replied.
    Yo, not sure. It's more that she's being confronted all the time with the thing she's angry at...yet is in a situation where it is essential she works with the thing she's angry at (note - thing, not person!)
    JtF, Reeka has yet to offer the two fingered salute, but if I interrogate her, she just might... ;)
  • JD
    by JD 9 months ago
    What does she want?
  • Barny
    by Barny 9 months ago
    What does she want (explicit, stated in the text), and what does she need (implicit, only visible to the reader through her actions/words)?
  • stephenterry
    by stephenterry 9 months ago
    Perhaps ask your MC why she's doing whatever she's doing. Whether it's a good or bad thing, and what end result does she want to happen.

    If the novel is for young readers the motivation could be quite simple, like mummy will be angry if I don't do it. If it's for older children it could be peer pressure.
    If it's fantasy I suppose it doesn't really matter...
  • Caducean Whisks
    by Caducean Whisks 9 months ago
    1. "What she wants", is more of an all-pervasive theme that drives the book and is most likely to be one of our basic needs:
    Does she want to feel safe? Be loved? Have a home to call her own? No longer be plagued by nightmares? Perhaps she can't bear the guilt of what she's done in the past and wants peace. Or forgiveness. Has she been a coward and does she want to prove herself brave? Save herself or a loved one? See her mother one more? Perhaps she just wants to be able to eat cake every day of her life.
    2. Why can't she have what she wants? What prevents her from feeling safe, being loved, having a home, etc. Note: keep whatever she wants away from her for the course of the book.
    3. At the end, don't give her what she wants. *Give her what she needs.* These are not the same things; she may not be aware of what she needs, but the reader will - and say, 'Aha' at the end. And sigh when they know it's right.
    As for being proactive - I know that problem. In the first third of my WIP, my MC generates all the action, but in the second third, she *reacts* only. There's plenty of action, but she's not causing any of it. So I have the same issue as you. So my job - and possibly yours - is to make *her* cause events to change, not let events change around her. i.e. At a point where she's being particularly passive, she must stand up and do something differently. Say 'No' when the easy answer would be 'Yes'. Go left when the obvious direction is right. Choose X when anybody else would choose Y. Then see what happens.
    As for retro-fitting it? It might not be as big a deal as you imagine. That's what I'm hoping anyway. I mean, we know our characters quite well, so must be aware of what she really, deep-down wants - and what she really, deep-down needs. But we - the authors - haven't necessarily brought that into our own consciousnesses. Once we do, it will all flow from that. That's the theory, anyway :-D
  • Woolleybeans
    by Woolleybeans 9 months ago
    I am behind on reading your Reeka draft, but from the opening chapter, I'd expect her to 'want' to find a way to become an active agent of her own life. She is propelled into leaving against her wishes and is worried about leaving her mum in the situation she is in. Maybe the very fact she is reacting to things instead of instigating them could be a part of her motivation to become the active rather than the passive agent?

    From that first chapter, I'd also expect the novel to deal with her desire to get back home and to see her mum safe, but that can feed into her desire for control, too.
  • Philippa
    by Philippa 9 months ago
    Hi Squidge,

    I totally feel your pain. My teenage MC had (has?) a very similar problem. Firstly, she was often an onlooker to the action, rather than the prime mover, and secondly, I realised I didn't know what was fundamentally driving her. Her cousin (who was like a twin to her) had been through a terrible trauma and my MC had sort of obvious motivations like "I love and miss my cousin and want us to reconnect and be happy", but beyond that - not much.

    I worked it out by asking what was at stake for her. In other words, what would happen to her if she DIDN'T achieve her objective? I discovered that my MC felt utterly unable to navigate the process of growing up without her cousin emotionally and physically by her side. So, if she could not reform the bond with her cousin, my MC would potentially remain emotionally stunted forever, unable to embrace her own transition into adulthood.

    When I figured that out, suddenly my MC got a lot more proactive (sometimes just internally, or in small ways), but the bottom line was the outcome MATTERED. It was no longer (just) about what she wanted, but about what she stood to lose.

    Thing is, we can want lots of things (a boyfriend, a new car, some cake, a promotion), but if there's no pit yawning below us that we'll fall into if we don't achieve that, then our motivation can be a bit 'meh'. Fear is typically a stronger motivator than desire.

    Working this motivation in to the book wasn't too hard. I didn't really have to spell it out, it's more that I tweaked certain scenes to show the urgency which naturally arose as a result of identifying what was at stake for my MC. Just adding a wash of colour through it, so to speak, and few references (literally a few lines) here and there.
  • RichardB
    by RichardB 9 months ago
    Great post from Phllippa.

    I don't know your book and so I can't make concrete suggestions, but in the context of what little WB says about it her suggestion makes sense. As do Whisks' comments.

    As a general point, motivation doesn't necessarily *have* to be a concrete objective, an actual achievement. It can even be the opposite, the *avoidance* of something disastrous.

    As an example, a few years back I read a book in which the MC's motivation was entirely negative. He'd inadvertently killed a man in circumstances that looked bad for him, he was on the run, and his sole motivation throughout was to keep his head down and avoid being caught. All his behaviour was reactive. While his presence (and even that was the result of circumstances beyond his control) was the catalyst for the catastrophe that overtook the family he'd holed up with, he did nothing himself to bring it about, and its seeds were there long before he came on the scene. Yet I was hooked, and stayed hooked. It's still one of my favourites of my last five years' worth of reading.

    Maybe that's because certain aspects, notably the MC being on the run, resonated with ideas I already had, and which became my WIP. But it did get some good reviews. (And I did make my MC a little more proactive.)

    Not ultimately helpful perhaps, but hopefully food for thought.

    And maybe you're sweating this a bit too much.
  • Janeshuff
    by Janeshuff 9 months ago
    Hi Squidge. Interesting post and brilliant comments. I think when you know what your character needs over all and what she wants both overall and specifically in each scene, it infuses the writing and brings it to life - much like Philippa says. Even if he/she doesn't do much in the scene.
  • Squidge
    by Squidge 9 months ago
    Thanks, all - there are some really helpful suggestions in here.

    What Whisks said about it linking into the theme resonated... I think that's actually what I was searching for. This morning, I woke up and realised that the theme is something close to 'proving that this thing which she's so angry with does exist and does matter.' Then, when she's in the situations she's in, she's trying to find answers and proof.

    Doesn't exactly trip off the tongue as a theme, but I'm getting there...
  • Philippa
    by Philippa 9 months ago
    So you mean your theme is about "validation", Squidge? ;)
  • Caducean Whisks
    by Caducean Whisks 9 months ago
    Excellent news! Glad it helped. Now to wrestle with my own theme. Other people's problems are so much easier to solve :)
  • Squidge
    by Squidge 9 months ago
    Philipa - is it? ;) And Whisks..I know. I'd much rather be sorting something else out than my own problems! ;)
  • Caducean Whisks
    by Caducean Whisks 9 months ago
    She wants to be believed. Is that it?
  • Squidge
    by Squidge 9 months ago
    I don't think she wants to BE believed...she wants to believe in something that has crushed her belief in it. Does that make sense?
  • Janeshuff
    by Janeshuff 9 months ago
    Perfectly. What great source of conflict! Watching it going on around her and despising it for being false and then wondering if there might be some truth in it.
Please login or sign up to post on this network.
Click here to sign up now.


Getting Published


Visitor counter



Blog Roll Centre


Blog Hints

Blog Directory