I used to do a lot of acting. I went to an arts high school, my major being drama. Acting isn’t a very big part of my life anymore, but the things I learned in drama class were a massive influence on my development as a writer. Writing is similar to acting, in that you have to connect to the characters you’re creating and that usually involves putting yourself in their shoes. This can be difficult. Motives aren’t always easy to decipher, and I there are times where I just plain don’t know why a character is doing something. Times like these, I remember drama class.

My teacher had this method. It was an all-encompassing method that she gave to us in answer to any issue we had with motives or tactics. What was it?

Find the love in the scene.

The man loves the woman, and the woman is indifferent. Why is she indifferent? She doesn’t love him back.

Boring! Negation doesn’t leave a very good impression compared to agreement. In acting, the first rule of improvisation is that you’re not allowed to negate what your partner says. Granted, a woman’s love isn’t improv, but the point here is that negation isn’t very interesting. It can’t go anywhere. If she doesn’t love him, then who does she love? Someone else? Her work? Her independence? A flat no, without reason, will stagnate. Find the love in her life, and suddenly her reasons for not loving him are clear, and they create deeper conflict that you can develop.

Since conflict makes the story-world go round, it’s fortunate that love is the kind of emotion that is strong enough to start wars. Somebody flying in the face of your love is a serious offense and if it’s bad enough, it will move you to defend your love with everything you have. Characters in a novel are no different. If you find yourself struggling with a plot hole made from a character’s lack of reasons for action, find the love in the scene. If they’re reacting with an anger or hate you can’t explain, all you have to do is consider why they might be angry or have hate. Which is so obvious, I know, but the simplest way of doing that is having the characters love the opposite of what they hate and building the scene around that. If you have a girl glaring at a guy for tossing her a wolf whistle, don’t make it about how she hates bigotry. Make it about how much she loves equality and respect. After that, the hate comes naturally, and its depth is exponential.

Another reason love is so damn important is because from love you can create nearly every kind of relationship or reaction possible. There are three big questions when it comes to acting that you have to ask yourself while developing your character: What does the character want? Why did the character move? Why did the character say that? It’s not a coincidence that those are the exact same questions that I ask myself when I’m struggling with a scene. In the end, the most effective method of answering them is by figuring out what they love. Their loves can be numerous. They can extend away from people and reach into the realm of both abstract and concrete concepts: I love humour, I love music, I love freedom. Take those away from me, and I will fight you. Give them to me and I will appreciate you. Tease me with them, string me along, and I’ll follow, because just the glimpse of those things, just the possibility of possessing them to a greater extent, will seduce me into a state of obedience.

Suddenly, I have three relationships, all three extremely different, all built around what I love, all with perfectly explicable motives that are true to myself and make me consistent about being who I am.

Consider this with your characters, and clarity will follow.

Find the love in the scene.


15 Responses to Motives

  1. Traci Krites Mar 28 2014 at 12:12 pm #

    I’ve never thought about doing this before. It makes sense!!

    • Biljana Mar 29 2014 at 3:13 pm #

      It’s literally like the sun coming out when it starts to click.

  2. Claudia McCarron Mar 28 2014 at 3:34 pm #

    I loved this post! It was very helpful.

  3. Alexa S. Mar 28 2014 at 11:36 pm #

    I adore this post, Biljana! “Find the love in the scene.” Such simple advice, and yet, it can change the course of an entire moment. How amazing is that? Thanks for sharing this tip! I’m definitely going to put it to good use.

    • Biljana Mar 29 2014 at 3:14 pm #

      It’s honestly so applicable to everything, it’s near fool-proof 🙂 Thanks for reading!

  4. Hamed Mar 29 2014 at 3:17 pm #

    Honestly, I don’t think this would work. A real world –even in a fiction world- doesn’t work like this. People often don’t know what they really love or- even for that matter- hate. I get what you’re trying to say but it’s just not right. I like having some kind of general formula to work with and/or around it but this one going to work. Not every feeling that we have or every need that we burden is about love or relates to love. In real world, a man who steals a loaf of doesn’t love the bread, doesn’t even love his miserable life. He does what he does just because he has to.
    Sorry if was out of line or rude. I swear it wasn’t my intention.
    P. S:
    It’s our New Year ’s Eve, Norooz. I wish all you Pubcrawl guys have a great year, full of pages filled with your creations.

    • Biljana Mar 29 2014 at 4:34 pm #

      Not rude at all, I love these kinds of discussions.

      The thing is, this isn’t really a method that is supposed to apply to the real world. It’s meant to help you discover why your character is being pushed to do what they’re doing. It’s true that the guy stealing the loaf of bread may just be thinking of eating and surviving, but there are times where people are only pushed to that kind of desperation because they have other mouths to feed. If you consider that maybe it’s not just he who’s hungry, but his kid or his pregnant wife, his reasons become easier to relate to and his character may become more natural to write. Though we could probably argue about this scenario for days because I see the flaw in what I’m saying: for example maybe he really is just poor and really is just stealing the bread solely for himself. Those are the cases you see more prominently in dystopian or post-apocalyptic stories. But the thing that makes the characters in those stories disturbing is exactly that they throw away their “humanity” (for lack of better word; what is humanity?) and think only of themselves and nobody else.

      The second point I’d like to respond to is one I probably could’ve clarified in the article. You say that in real life people don’t always know what they really love or hate (absolutely true) but a novel isn’t real life, and neither is a play. As realistic as a world may seem, the fact of the matter is that it still isn’t real: it’s a literary construction. It’s written by an author or acted by the actor, and even though the character may not know what they love, the author and actor should, because it’ll help them with their interpretation exponentially. You as an author can’t afford to be blind to what they love or hate because you’re the one who’s single-handedly creating the world they live and who they are. If you want to truly know your character, you have to be ready to understand their emotions even though they themselves might not.

      That’s not to say you can only create convincing or well-developed characters if you know what they love. Sometimes it’s a subconscious knowledge. But knowing can really help you craft their reactions in a consistent way.

      Thanks for the well wishes, and Happy New Year to you, too!

      • Hamed Mar 30 2014 at 12:06 pm #

        It figures why you love these kinds of discussions. You made your point perfectly and I’m almost sold. (Almost, because of my love for being stubborn.)
        Thank you.

  5. Lindsey Whitlock Mar 29 2014 at 5:19 pm #

    Excellent post. Thank you!

    • Biljana Apr 11 2014 at 8:22 pm #

      Thank you for reading 🙂

  6. Adam Silvera Mar 30 2014 at 6:05 pm #

    Wow, loved this post. Crazy eye-opening stuff here that I’ll have to keep in mind during revisions.

    • Biljana Apr 11 2014 at 8:23 pm #

      It’s also super helpful when you find a scene you REALLY want to keep but you can’t figure out how to justify it.

  7. Victoria Grace Howel Apr 1 2014 at 9:22 pm #

    Great post. I’ve heard of concepts like this, but how you explain loves makes it clear. Thank you. 🙂

    Stori Tori’s Blog

    • Biljana Apr 11 2014 at 8:24 pm #

      Glad you enjoyed it. Concepts like this abound, it’s true. This is just one way to apply them.

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