Gen Con Panel Notes: Character Motivation

Elizabeth Bear, Gwenda Bond, John Horner Jacobs, Lauren M. Roy, Howard Tayler (m)

Take it as given that characters need to be motivated. Where do you start? When you want the character to do something important to the plot.
Bear – make them want something even if only glass of water (Vonnegut)
Also makes reader care about the character
Roy – yes. Also thinks about what their controlling worldview is. How they feel like it’s keeping them from getting what they want.
What’s different about their perspective
Jacobs – at beginning of musical, character sings their desire. It’s good to know when you’re setting out what you think the characters desires are, even if it’s preserve the status quo
Roy – conflict between what they want and what they need
Jacobs – authors create situations that strip away characters , leaves their core
Tayler – musical theater shows the use of tools we don’t get to use. Into the Woods, Agony – it’s a better Captain Kirk than his Captain Kirk. It tells what he want. It’s slimy but we’re on board bc of how it’s communicated
How do you communicate that to the reader as enthusiastically as musical theater might
Bear – protag should have strong want and conflicting need. Put in situations where those conflicting desires can be exposed.
The character who runs toward gunfire will make the plot for you.
Bond – Lois lane, easy to write because she’s so intrinsically motivated and creating her own obstacles. Also confidence porn, she has the ability to see things are wrong.
When starting out I would choose the wrong character. Often the ones that are easy to understand aren’t the ones w a deep desire that can sustain an entire novel.

Tayler – when character does a thing that the writer hasn’t earned. When James Bond is awesome in first 5 min it’s earned, but for an unknown character, how do you earn the readers trust?
Jacobs – example, Fury Road. It should have been Furiosa road. Max was divorced from everything, you have no clear idea of his motivations except flashbacks.
Regret is not a sting motivator, revenge is.
In first frame he has connection to dog, and later they transfer that to the feral boy. He can form a bond and when threatened he’ll act to protect that.
But at end he fades back into crowd…
Sometimes motivation is connection to other life…
Bond – girl is wire walker. Was worried about how to make reader believe she can do it. Grabbed the physicality of wire walking. Ground us in the body of the character so we feel it. You have to show that it’s not easy and that they trained or learned.
Bear – cheap way is training montage. And reaction shot.
Meeting Eliot in Leverage, great character introduction, bar with mobsters, walks out with macguffin.
Tayler – if he were the protagonist that wouldn’t work bc you’ve set up an impossible situation and won. In ensemble cast it worked.
Bear – it can work in a lot of ways.
Sherlock Holmes, teveryone takes it for granted that he can do this.
Bond – you’re so close to the protagonist that you forget to make sure that the other people in the story are reacting to them.

Tayler – what do you do to demonstrate that secondary characters have motivations?
Roy – show them interacting with primary characters. Small interpersonal interactions to establish the character and how they talk. Who they are in relation to each other.
Bear – point about conversations is good. Usually both people are talking about their own stuff and there’s a point of intersection. That’s how we build empathy,
Bond – it’s important that those characters …
Tayler – everyone hero of own story. We are in building full of people with motivation I need to get into exhibit hall to get this thing. And they were in my way when I wanted to get here.
We want to write that so our character’s quest to be the moderator runs afoul of real people.

Obstacles. What are your favorite? When you want to drive the character arc and plot, serve multiple purposes.
Bear – character is plot. If they’re doing something out if character the writer isn’t forming the plot from what they want.
There’s the thing they need to do to become a whole, complete being. Die Hard – he wants his wife back, he needs to become a person she wants.
Bond – be as extreme as possible within the bounds of credulity.
Make the obstacles tough from the get go
Roy – they have to choose, and think they’re making the right decision
Jacobs – there have to be realistic, often unforeseen consequences to what your character decides
One rookie mistake – needing more tension, bring in man with gun, tends to be a small conflict that you’re fabricating.
Bear – the character who is constantly in conflict because they’re brittle and mouthy, are better as secondary
Bond – can be primary if you see inside them…

In your writing, moments where your characters had a motivation problem and you solved it – an aha moment
Bear – one-eyed jack, 1st person narrator. Had problem with protag as unreliable narrator, withholding information. I couldn’t figure out what he was withholding. He had interesting backstory that was motivating him, took four drafts.
Bond – last week, had about 20k words which is where I stop and see where I went wrong. Girl who wants to be magician like her dad, he doesn’t wNt her to. She runs away to join circus. Wasn’t feeling like she and dad were close. Realized she’s been practicing on her own. Now she has something to prove, and is more interesting because she’s spent six years becoming an expert on escape.
Jacobs – my first novel, horror crime mashup. Vet with PTSD. …
Roy – weird hybrid of pantser and plotter. Ending of book came to her. Don’t know who’ showing to so,ve the problem , then character gets what he wants but it wasn’t what he wanted. So etimes you have to let it percolate and let your subconscious…

Questions
Is a need to do your duty a lazy motivation?
Jacobs – some motivations are more interesting than others.
Forrest Gump a lieutenant motivation wanted to die in battle, and was interesting character
Job of writer is to make it interesting
Tayler – protag is bodyguard, job is to guard the CEO. But critters asked what he wanted besides his job. So he joined the military to save the world, realized he can only save some people. Now he has a motivation, and at end he might get to save the world – that connection made the story work.
Bond – he wants to do his duty why?
Bear – guy doing his job – Clerks. And Ned Stark.
Jacobs – interesting thing about duty is pride and ego.

Running toward bullets – but what about a no confidant protagonist?
Bond – I love that kind of character. They’re almost immediately forced outside their comfort zone.
Bear – tragic arc is guy who refuses to grow. Use a series of carrots and sticks to get him to move to take more responsibility.
Jacobs – works really well with young adult.
Bond – even the most competent character is an asshole if they never question.
Roy – wendig’s Miriam. Sees people’s death. She tried to circumvent that but it happens anyway. If your character tries to run away, out the thing right back in front of them.

Character has motivation but finds it’s not as simple as they thought (are betrayed) and have to do 180?
Bear – the turn or twist.
Bond – hague’s 5 act structure, 10 percent of the story problem isn’t driving the plot, 25 is. (?)
Tayler – it is a disaster when you discover everything you wanted is wrong, it’s a powerful story. Now they’re lost, you rescuer them
Bond – Solitaire by Kelly Eskridge

Closing remarks
Bear – break stuff, make character react
Bond – yes
Jacobs – make it worse
Roy – have characters bullshit at each other, figure out how to interact
Tayler – watch people, if you understand why ppl want things that make no sense…

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