Showing posts with label motivation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label motivation. Show all posts

Friday, February 17

Writers: Discovering What You Love

Writers: Discover What You Love

We’ve all heard the saying, popular at graduations, “If you love what you do, you’ll always do what you love.”

But what if you’re not sure what you love? How does one discover passion? Or perhaps you have the opposite problem, you love many things. How can you pick just one?

Discovering What You Love

Ask yourself, if you weren’t reading this, what would you be doing? Or, more to the point, what would you want to do? If—like me right now!—you’re dreaming of sitting in your favorite coffee shop contentedly sipping your favorite beverage, that’s okay!

Often when we’re chronically busy, every moment of our lives filled not only with things to do but with the awareness of all the things we haven’t yet done but urgently need to, sometimes when this happens all we can think of, dream of, is a moment of quiet, of silence, of relaxing into nothing, into a lull, into a glorious absence of activity. You could think of this as something like meditation.

So take a moment, sate yourself. Enter the calm. Breathe.

Now what? If you’re anything like me you can’t take more than 10 minutes of this! What are you thinking about now? What are you doing?

Are you doodling? Are you thinking about a vacation, perhaps somewhere hot? Are you thinking about family? Children? A pet? Gardening?

Now that a few thoughts are percolating ask yourself: What would I like to be doing in 5 years? 10 years? What would make me happy?

Look back. Picture yourself 5 years ago. Perhaps on your birthday. Did you go out with friends or did you celebrate with a quiet day at home? Fix that moment in your mind. Now ask yourself: Is whatever it is you’re currently up to what you wanted to be doing?

If, five years ago, you knew what lay in store for you, how would your younger self have reacted? Would she have been happy? Scared? Depressed? Thrilled? If she knew what the future held in store for her, what changes would she, would you, make?

I Know What I Love, but So What? Only a Lucky Few Can Do What They Love and I Don't Have That Kind of Luck!

But perhaps you’re ahead of the game and know perfectly well what you love, you just don’t know if you can make money—or enough money—at it.

Chuck Wendig in his wonderful article “Write What You Love, Or Write What Sells?”[1] suggests we find out what we love and do that but reminds us that if you love something—if you’re passionate about it—then one thing is guaranteed: You’re not the only one.

The real question is: How can you connect with these wonderful people who have the same passions as you? Also, how many of them can you connect with? The answers to these two questions can give you some idea whether writing what you love can be your full time job or whether you should keep working at it on the side.

That said, As Chuck Wendig reminds us, all things being equal, we have a better chance of succeeding at doing what we love than do folks who aren’t as passionate. He writes:

“When you write the thing that truly speaks to you ... you’re likelier to plant a more fertile garden, narratively-speaking. Write what you want, and you’ve a greater chance, I suspect, of putting passion and power into the characters and into the story. If you like what you’re writing, and you’re affected by it, you stand a greater chance to affect the audience in the same way. Surprise yourself. Make yourself feel something. Tell the story you want to tell.” [1]

Here’s a question: Right now you’re doing something that pays the rent. Why do you do this? Is it purely for the money? I’m guessing not. Every single job I’ve had ... sure I’ve taken it for the obvious reason—I received money in exchange for work—but there was always something I liked about it, something that fulfilled me, something that made me feel good about the work.

So, sure, whatever you’re doing you’re doing for the money, but what is the one thing (or two things, or three things, or ...) you like about it?

You Don’t Always Know What You Love

In an interview for the blog “This is Horror” Chuck Wendig said:

“[W]riting horror began for me as a way of cheating and defeating fear. As a little kid I was terrified of horror movies like _The Exorcist[link] and _Nightmare on Elm Street[link], and yet I was compelled and fascinated by them. So, learning to embrace that kind of storytelling was a way of getting power over fear. After a while, though, I just found it really cool.” [3]

From Chuck Wendig’s comment, above, it looks like he didn’t always know he loved to write horror.

In order to know what we love we must try new things. This can be tough, going out of your way to do something requires effort and it might cost money. You also know that in the end you might be disappointed!

In fact, if finding a new thing to love is anything like finding a new favorite dish then you can expect that for every five new experiences you’ll only really like one.

Like anything worthwhile, discovering new things that fulfill you takes work. It requires honesty and (at times) more than a little bravery. That sounds counter-intuitive, I know! It seems as if we should know instinctively what we love—and sometimes we do!—but that isn’t always the case. Discovering new things to love can be hard work.

You might wonder, “Well, if discovering new things to love is such hard work, why bother?” That’s a good question, one I think everyone has to answer for themselves. Here’s my answer: Discovering what I love teaches me about myself. Sure, it’s not easy but, in the end, it’s what keeps me keeping on.

Every post I pick something I love and recommend it. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post.

I’ve been on a diet and so, of course, the only thing I can think about is food! Especially cupcakes. So! I’m recommending American Girl Baking: Recipes for Cookies, Cupcakes & More from Williams-Sonoma.

That's it! Have a fantastic weekend. I'll talk to you again on Monday. Till then, good writing!

* * *

The Structure of a Great Story: How to write a suspenseful tale!


1. Write What You Love, or Write What Sells?, Chuck Wendig

2. Why You Should Write What You Love, Chuck Wendig

3. This quotation is taken from an interview Chuck Wendig did for a blog called, “This is Horror.”

Sunday, February 12

The Structure of Character

The Structure of Character

Most of the time I focus on story structure rather than character structure.

Now, you might wonder: Is “character structure” really a thing? Do all the different elements that go into making up a fictional human have a structure?

I think they do, though it’s not as clear cut as it is with story structure. By the way, I’m not putting this forward as the way things are, I’m musing aloud. In what follows I lay out my reasoning, and I would be very interested in what you folks think! :-)

Motorboat Example

To make things easier, I’m going to refer to the following diagram in what follows:

In this figure you see three things:

- A shark
- A man driving a motorboat
- An island

When we talk about character, the following terms are often used:

- Motivation
- Goals
- Desires (internal & external)
- Flaw
- Wound

I want to try and explain what I mean by each of these terms with reference to the above diagram.

MOTIVATION: The shark is the man’s motivation for heading to the island.

DESIRE: The man’s desire sets his goal. We can’t actually see the man’s desire. In this case it’s something like, “Stay alive!”

GOAL: The island is the man’s goal. If the man reaches the island he’ll be safe from the shark.

FLAW/WOUND: Flaws come in many different varieties. The character can have a physical imperfection: a sprained leg, a scar, a physical wound, and so on. The character can also have a psychological flaw. He could be depressed or his anxiety levels could be so high he can’t think straight. Or perhaps he’s lost someone he loves. In terms of the motorboat example, if the man had a broken arm it would be more difficult to steer the boat toward the island.

Desire vs Goals

Some folks talk about internal desires and external desires—and that’s great! An example of an internal desire would be the desire to be loved. An external desire, on the other hand, would be wanting Handsome John, the crown prince of Egodia, to ask one out on a date. This way of talking about things is fine—great!—but I prefer to simply think about these things in terms of desires and goals.[1]

A desire, at least in the sense I’m using it here, has the following connotations:

  • It is about the heart rather than the head. 
  • It is personal vs impersonal.
  • It has to do with “unkickables”; that is, things you can’t take a picture of—things like the desire to be loved or to be a success.
  • It is broad vs narrow.

A goal, on the other hand, is very different:

  • It is about the head more than the heart.
  • It is impersonal vs personal.
  • It is “kickable”; tangible. That is, you could take a picture of it. This covers things like winning the lottery and climbing Mount Everest.
  • It is narrow vs broad.

The way I think of it, a goal is a specific, concrete, expression of a desire. While the desire is broad, general, even nebulous, the goal is concrete. One could take a picture of the character accomplishing it.

For example, if a character—let’s call her Jane—has the desire to be rich, there are several concrete, specific goals she COULD have:

  • Buy a lottery ticket.
  • Go to school and become a lawyer.
  • Become a day trader.
  • Rob a bank.

And so on. Jane’s personality, skills, background and environment will no doubt influence which goal Jane selects, but that GOAL will be an expression of her DESIRE to be rich.

Of course, you could think about desires differently. For example, Jane could have a specific desire (e.g., I want to get rich by becoming a day trader). That’s fine. Think of desires and goals however makes the most sense to you!

The Structure: Incompatible Desires

When I talk about the structure of character I think about how desires and goals relate to one another. Specifically, how the secret to making a lifelike character is to give her incompatible desires (which, in turn, translate into incompatible goals). In a well-structured story this will eventually force the character to prefer one desire, one goal, above another.

Perhaps the best way to communicate what I mean is to look at examples:

Example 1: Silence of the Lambs, by Thomas Harris

I’m guessing that you’ve either read the book or seen the movie. If not, what are you waiting for!? If you’d like to read a summary of the story, head over to Wikipedia.[2]

In Silence of the Lambs, Clarice Starling has two main desires:

Desire1: Save lives, help those who can’t help themselves.
Desire2: Gain status, be recognized and valued for accomplishments.

These desires are expressed as the following goals:

Goal1: Save the girl ([name], the senator’s daughter) Buffalo Bill has captured.
Goal2: Climb the career ladder at the FBI. (Graduate and become a full-fledged FBI agent. Be recognized and rewarded for hard work and excellence.)

Before Clarice started working for Jack Crawford her internal and external desires were in sync. She believed her superiors at the FBI were interested in saving innocents, that this concern trumped their ambition.

Another way of saying the same thing is that, in the Ordinary World of the story, Clarice’s goals were aligned. AFTER she begins working for Crawford she realizes her superiors in the FBI don’t care about saving Buffalo Bill’s victims as much as they care about politics—that is, in not ticking off the wrong people and climbing the career ladder.

When Clarice’s internal and external desires come into conflict her life becomes disharmonious. Clarice realizes she must choose, one desire must rule the other. Either she will give up her ambitions and try to save the girl or she will let go of her desire to rescue the innocent in favor of getting ahead at the FBI. Whichever way Clarice chooses it will reveal her character. In the end she does the only thing she can given who she is: she tries to save the girl.

Example 2: The Matrix

For both Neo and Trinity their goals change during the course of the movie. At first Neo is focused on finding Morpheus and figuring out what the matrix is. When he accomplishes that at the Lock-In his desires change. Neo wants to be what Morpheus wants him to be: the One. He also wants to protect the resistance—both the movement and the people within the movement, especially Trinity. So ...

Desire1: Protect and serve the resistance.
Desire2: Become the One.

Early in Act Two these desires are in harmony, but after Morpheus is captured they come apart. At this point Neo believes he has a choice: save Morpheus and die himself or sacrifice Morpheus and live on in the hope he (Neo) will become the One.

Goal1: Kill Morpheus before the agents can extract the codes from his mind and use them to quash the resistance. (Morpheus dies, Neo lives.)
Goal2: Rescue Morpheus and, in so doing, give up his own life. 

Neo wants to save the resistance—and himself—(Goal1), and he wants to save Morpheus (Goal2), but he can’t do both. So he chooses, and his choice reveals his character and sets him apart as a hero. He chooses to give up his own life so that Morpheus might live and the resistance continue.

So, what do you think? Is there a structure to the desires of a well-drawn character?

Every post I pick something I love and recommend it. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post.

Today I’m recommending something a bit different. Sometimes I use a voice recorder to start my writing off. I love writing while I walk! The voice recorder I use is the Sony ICD PX333. I’m sure there are better recorders out there, but not for $29.99! I’ve had it for years and I've dropped it, used it out in the snow, the rain, and it still works fine! If someone else would like to recommend another voice recorder, please do!

That’s it! I was a bit late with this post—there was a lot to think about! I’ll talk to you again tomorrow. Till then, good writing!


1. To me this seems like a simpler system, though I likely find it simpler simply because it clicks with me. Each of us is different and so it’s reasonable that we each need to make sense of these concepts in our own way. If my way of thinking clicks with you, great! If not, then ignore it. Do whatever makes sense to you.

2. Although the book and the movie are quite similar there are significant differences. For example, Clarice’s anger plays a much bigger part in the book as does Crawford’s scheming and behind the scenes manipulations.

3. The Oracle has told Trinity that the man she falls in love with will be the One.

Monday, February 10

How To Create An Entertaining Protagonist: A Story Checklist

How To Create An Entertaining Protagonist: A Story Checklist

What do you have over your writing desk? Mine is littered with pieces of paper on which I've scribbled bits of (what I think is) sage writing advice. I'll let you be the judge. (grin)

By the way, your protagonist doesn't have to have all these characteristics. I like to look at this list every once in a while and double-check that my protagonist has a fair share of them and, also, to make sure I haven't forgotten anything.

1. Protagonist

Your protagonist should:

a. Have a special talent.
b. Have a strength.
c. Be clever and resourceful.
d. Be wounded.
e. Be pursuing justice or at least have a guiding principle.
f. Have a catch phrase.
g. Have likeable qualities.
h. Be quirky.

1a. Give the protagonist a special talent (/unique ability).

Give the protagonist an ability that no one else has. This doesn't have to be something earth shattering. It can be something trivial such as being able to tie a cherry stem with one's tongue.

1b. Give the protagonist a strength.

The following list is from Character Strengths and Virtues by Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman.

i. Wisdom allows one to acquire and use knowledge. Creativity, curiosity, open-mindedness, love of learning, perspective and wisdom.

ii. Courage allows one to accomplish goals in the face of opposition. Bravery, persistence, integrity, vitality.

iii. Humanity allows one to befriend others. Love, kindness, social intelligence.

iv. Justice helps build community. Active citizenship, loyalty, fairness, prudence, self control.

v. Temperance protects against excess. Forgiveness & mercy, humility.

vi. Transcendence helps forge connections to others and provides meaning. Appreciation of beauty, gratitude, hope, humor & playfulness, spirituality.

1c. Make the protagonist clever and resourceful.

It seems to me that most good protagonists are both clever and resourceful. They are intelligent and can fix things, both little and big. They can come up with inventive solutions others would never think of. 

Clever characters are quick-witted. They can come up with a blindingly clever retort but without, perhaps, thinking through all the ramifications of what they've just said. (It can, occasionally, be smart not to say something clever.)  

1d. Give the protagonist a wound

Make sure that, in romance writer Terrel Hoffman's words, "In a hero’s character arc, she is missing something so essential that, if she doesn’t find it by story’s end, she’ll fail to achieve her story goal." (For Great Characters it's All About the Wound)

1e. Give the protagonist a guiding principle.

What is your protagonist's guiding principle? What rule do they live by? Turn this into a saying. Almost a tag line for the character.

For example, Poirot's guiding principle is "I do not approve of murder."

1f. Give the protagonist a catch phrase.

For example, two of Poirot's catch phrases are: "My little grey cells," and "I do not approve of murder."

Monk's catch phrase is "It's a gift and a curse."

1g. Give the protagonist likeable qualities.

I've already listed some strengths a character--or, indeed, a person--could have. I think most of these would go toward making a character likable. 

Another thing that works is to show a character being liked by other characters. 

You can also show your character doing something selfless for someone else. Save a cat!

1h. Give the protagonist a quirk

Give your protagonist a reason to be concerned about something, their clothes for instance. Then give your protagonist a reason to continually pay attention to it.

For example, lets say your protagonist, Zoe, buys an expensive dress she can't afford. She plans to wear it once then return it. Her date takes her out for dinner, but at a place that features mud wrestling! Zoe continually worries about staining the dress.

If you can manage it, the silly quirk should contradict the character's strength. For example, Indiana Jones' strength is courage and his silly quirk is fear of snakes.

2. Stakes

Stakes must be clear. What will the protagonist get if she achieves her goal?  What will she lose if she fails to achieve it? 

Also, the stakes must matter to the protagonist.

3. Motivation

The protagonist's motivation must be clear.

Although it seems not everyone draws a distinction between a protagonist's motivation and his desire I find doing this often helps. 

Here's how I look at it: a protagonist's motivation explains why he desires what he does and his goal is a concrete expression of that desire. 

For example, a child might want to win a spelling bee because the school bully taunts him and calls him stupid. In that case, the character's wish to silence the bully would be the protagonist's motivation. His overriding desire, on the other hand, is for people to think he is smart, and the concrete expression of that desire--his goal--is to win the upcoming spelling championship.

4. Goal

The protagonist needs to solve a well defined problem
The protagonist must take decisive action to get what she wants.
The protagonist must want something desperately
Finally, the thing the protagonist wants should be something so concrete that you could take a picture of her doing it.

5. B-Story

The solution to the B-story often provides the protagonist with the solution she needs to finally resolve her dilemma and achieve her goal. (I talk about the b-story a bit in my article on narrative setting.)

6. Antagonist's Goal

The antagonist's goal should be such that if he achieves it the protagonist cannot. For instance, in Lord of the Rings, if Frodo succeeded in destroying the One Ring then Sauron's quest to destroy Middle-earth would fail. On the other hand, if Sauron got the One Ring back then Middle-earth would be destroyed and Frodo would have failed.

The best article on creating an antagonist I've read so far is Jim Butcher's, "How To Build A Villain." If you read that article, don't forget to take a look at JB's comments in the comments section.

Question: What writing advice do you have tacked on the wall above your writing desk? Please share!

Photo credit: "2014-038 this way up" by Robert Couse-Baker under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Sunday, November 25

NaNoWriMo: The Homestretch & Kindling The Will To Write

NaNoWriMo: The Homestretch & Kindling The Will To Write

We're pulling into the homestretch of NaNoWriMo!

Exhaustion is setting in. I feel like a marathoner nearing the end. I've seen pictures of runners near the finish line reaching out for a tiny paper cup of cold water, dumping it over their heads with an expression of ... well, not ecstasy, but close.

That shock of cold gives them the impetus they need to keep going, to find the will to finish.

This morning I found my impetus in the form of Kathy Steffen's article, 10 Quick Tips to Get Your Writing Back on Track! It gave me the jolt I needed to keep putting one word after another.

Below are 5 of Kathy's 10 tips:
3. Print out motivation quotes or writing affirmations and tape them to your computer so you will see inspirational words every day. We all can use a cheering section. Make your own.

6. Collage your book or your writing goals. Visuals can be inspirational and bring a different motivational aspect to your writing. Don’t like glue stick? Have you tried Pinterest? It’s more than pinning recipes. I use Pinterest to make WIP boards. This one comes with a warning. It can be a huge time drain, but only if you let it. Just be sure to set a timer and limit your time on the site, and stick to your WIP board. Later, as a reward for writing, give yourself a little “fun” Pinterest time.
I love this tip! Just yesterday I wrote about using Pinterest to help organize research for your work in progress. (See: Using Pinterest To Help Build Your Fictional Worlds)
7. Make a writing sound track. Whether it’s for a specific book or just music that inspires you to write, make the soundtrack and play it! And write.
Kim Harrison is someone who does this, she can tell you what sort of music each of her major characters from the Hollows likes. She's even made playlists for them! (See: Writing To Music: Knowing Your Characters)
8. Set a timer for ten minutes and write a journal entry about what writing means to you. Inspire yourself by putting words on a page and remember what writing brings to your life. Remember why you love to write and write about it.
This exercise is how I worked through a particularly bad case of writer's block. Well, this one is similar. All I did is write for four pages or 8 minutes, whichever came first. In my imagination I re-entered the first scene of my last story and wrote about what I saw. That's it. The damn burst and words spilled out of me. (See: Vanquishing Writer's Block)
9. Hook up with a critique group or partner. Being accountable is a terrific motivator and a deadline every week  (or even every month) will keep your eyes on the prize, as they say. A group or partner will force you into writing consistently, and before you know it, sitting down to write will be second nature! This one keeps providing motivation, long after you’ve begun.
Great advice! I speak from experience. Here is what Kim Neville has to say about it: Lessons learned: Why I love giving critiques.

Kathy's article was published on the How To Write website. If you haven't visited them yet I'd highly recommend it. They have great articles about every aspect of the craft of writing.

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NaNoWriMo Update: As of last night my manuscript was at 47,025 words. Only two NaNoWriMo writing times to go!! :-)

Other articles you might like:
- Using Pinterest To Help Build Your Fictional Worlds
- How To Become More Creative: Nurturing Your Muse
- For NaNoWriMo: 10 HarperCollins Books On Writing For $1.99 Each

Photo credit: "Mumbai Marathon -011" by through my eyes only under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Friday, June 15

Conflict Creation: The Needs Of Your Characters

writing character motivation needs
A Character's Needs

Every character has needs, otherwise they'd be about as interesting as drying paint. So, here are a few points about needs:

1. The bigger and more urgent the need the better
Reading about someone who is slightly thirsty has zero drama, but reading about someone who is on the verge of dying from thirst gives a scene more immediacy. Be sure the solution to the character's problem, the thing that will erase his need, is both clearly described and difficult to attain.

2. Have your character's needs conflict
Let's say that our character--let's call him Joe--needs to drink water in the next hour or he'll die. He knows there's an oasis over the next hill, if he can only reach it before he collapses he'll be okay.

In this scenario we could throw all sorts of obstacles at our character--he trips and twists his ankle, a poisonous snake pops up out of the ground in front of him, and so on--but after a snake or two pops up to bar his way, what next?

How about giving our character a conflicting need? On his way to the oasis--Joe can see it now, shimmering in the air--he meets a damsel tied to a bomb. Joe can defuse the bomb but that will mean he won't be able to get the water he needs to stay alive.

I've provided a hackneyed example, but you get the idea.

3. Give your character different KINDS of needs
Last year I had the pleasure of hearing Michael Hauge speak; if you ever get the chance I highly recommend it. He talked about inner and outer needs. I'm calling them needs but we could also talk about motives or goals. Whatever it is that gets the character out of bed in the morning and doing something, preferably something interesting.

In our example, Joe has obvious outer needs: don't die of thirst, get water, diffuse the bomb. But what about his inner needs? Here's where things can get tricky because it works out best if (see 2, above) the inner need conflicts with Joe's most pressing outer need.

Perhaps Joe falls in love with our conveniently placed damsel. The problem: if he frees her he'll die of thirst and won't be able to enjoy her love or appreciation. Now we have a situation fraught with tension. This particular example is silly of course, but you get the idea.

Thanks for reading! And remember, keep writing.


Books on writing I recommend.

Recommended Reading:
- Call For Authors: Write a DEAD MAN Novel
- Indie vs. Traditional Publishing, Which Should You Choose?

Photo credit: Peak Oil Blues