|What really drives your story?|
I'm going to share with you a secret that will knock your socks off. This tip will make your plot richer and deeper and... more meaningful. Okay, when I say secret, it may be that I'm the only one that didn't know about it before. But I'm still excited, it's made a world of difference for my writing. Alison Goodman, author of the well known series Eon, revealed this writing technique in her course on narrative structure. Goodman passes on this golden advice from Robert McKee, who outlined the method in his book on writing screenplays, Story.
The importance of character motivation in fiction is obvious. Characters must want something real bad, this is their goal. Your character might even have more than one goal. They should have an existing goal before we meet them, you know - they want to travel the world but they've been stuck in a small town since they were born, they want to meet their prince charming but only meet pigs in the strip club they work in, or they want to be a rock star but their parents expect them to become a priest. This goal drives a lot of the protagonist's decisions. In Warracknabeal Kids, Harry Conner's existing goal is find his mother, or at least uncover what happened to her. But then something happens...
We have the sneaky old inciting incident. The moment that things change for the protagonist and their everyday life is shaken up in some way. The inciting incident may provide a new goal for your character. My inciting incident involved a fire and the discovery of a body. Now Harry has a whole new mystery to solve.
I always thought the protagonist's goal drove the narrative. But that's a limited view. There's something missing here. If you want to have a character with realistic depth then they need more than motive. They must posses an underlying need.
This need is something your protagonist won't be aware of. And here's the kicker, it's this need that will drive your story, everything in your novel should in some way address the character's need.
I was floored by this news. I always thought Harry NEEDED to find out what happened to his mother. She disappeared and left him alone with a father who can't connect with Harry. But when I explored the fact that Harry can't know what he really needs, I realised... Harry NEEDS to connect with his father. These two people need to find a way to be together, because Harry's mum is gone, but his dad is here.
Suddenly my narrative developed a new thread and theme. A stranger comes to town, and he was important to the story before, but now he is important to Harry as well. The charismatic stranger encompasses all the traits Harry wishes for in a father.
Your character's underlying need should contradict or conflict with their goal or desire. The character who wants to travel the world, might really need to recognise the value in belonging in a small town and the satisfaction of living up to your responsibilities. They might NEED to stay.
When your story reaches its climax, your character should be facing a serious dilemma. It is at this time they need to make a difficult choice. Go for the goal or the need? This dilemma is resolved when your character manages to acknowledge their need and unify the goal and need. That is, either they will find a way to have both, or they will release their grip on one and be satisfied with the other.
Knowing about my character's need to connect with his father has added a theme of fatherhood to my mystery novel. Other characters in the novel either compliment or contradict this theme. The theme touches everyone in this town in some way.
I've fallen even more in love with my novel and my very flawed characters. So here's what I want you to do right now, start brainstorming your character's need. You might not hit it straight away, keep going, you'll feel it like a punch in the stomach when you get the right one.