Monday, November 21
Why Am I Doing This Again? Plotting Through “What’s Next?” Part Two
Last week we talked about how to figure out where to go when you weren’t sure what happened next in your story. Today, let’s talk about plots where you’re not sure why your characters are doing what they’re doing.
If a lack of goals isn’t your problem, try looking at the motivations for those goals. Sometimes you know what you want to have happen in a plot, but the characters have no reason to do it, so you can’t figure out how to move forward. If you’re scratching you head as to the why, try asking yourself:
What does my protagonist personally gain from doing this?
They probably gain something plot wise, but it’s that personal connection that gives a motivation real drive. What’s in it for them? If you can’t name anything, think about things you can tweak so what you need them to do is something they personally need or want.
What will happen to my protagonist if they don’t do this?
If your hero can leave town and all their problems are solved, there’s really no reason for them to act at all. Consequences force movement, so taking a closer look at your stakes is a good way to double check your motivations. Is there a consequence if your protagonist doesn’t (or does) do what they need to do? Will their actions affect things?
Does my protagonist care if this happens?
Surface reasons sound like good motivators until you look deeper and realize the consequence isn’t a big deal or doesn’t really affect your protagonist on a personally level. How will failure personally affect your protagonist? How will success? How will it affect those around them? Plotting relies on action and reaction, so if your protag’s action don’t trigger a response somewhere, you’ll find yourself stuck again one scene later.
Do I care what happens?
If the author knows how the situation is going to turn out and writes it as if the outcome is a given, then odds are the protagonist is going to feel like they’re just going through the motions. Because they are. If you catch yourself “trying to get through the scene so you can get to the good stuff” step back and rethink the scene. It might be a transition scene, or filler you feel you have to have. Try looking at ways to make that scene do something to advance the story, not just mechanically fit the plot. Make sure you care how it turns out.
Are there any unconscious motivators at work?
These can be challenging, because how do you know what drives you if you don’t know it’s doing it? But you can have a character act without knowing the real reason why. Look at the symptoms in these cases. Someone afraid of intimacy might pull away when they start getting close. They don’t know it’s due to that fear, all they know is that they suddenly feel the need to escape or distance themselves. How does that unconscious need affect your protagonist?
How can I make this matter to my protagonist?
Sometimes it’s just a matter of figuring out why the necessary plot point is important. Think outside the story here, and don’t let your outline or ideas stymie you. Try looking at your protag’s backstory, their interior conflicts or goals. The past can be a strong motivator.
No matter what’s happening in a scene, something is motivating the protagonist to act. Find the reason why and it’ll be easier to move forward to the next problem.
Do you know why your characters act before you write a scene or do you figure it out afterward? Do you force them to act or do they demand to act all on their own?