The Big Question

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HAPPY NEW YEAR! How is it already January 7th? I had planned on making a post closer to the new year, but, here we are.

Okay, so you have your character. Now what? Where do you go from here? The next step is asking yourself the Big Question: What does my character want? This is the most important question because it will dictate the plot, but more on that later. If the author doesn’t know the character’s motivation, it will be apparent to the reader that the character is a loose cannon, and the story will suffer. In every scene, as the writer, you should ask this question (“What does my character want?”) and answer it. If you can’t answer it, something needs to be edited, added, or clarified.

What drives my character? What halts my character? Both of these questions are dictated by motivation. There are two different types of motivation: main motivations (main plots) and little motivations (subplots).

The main motivation or The Big M is something that takes the whole novel to be answered. (**Side note: The Big M may not always end with what is deemed as a “success,” but might actually be a “failure”—that’s okay. Both of these are acceptable answers to the Big Question.) The Big M is the reason we—the readers and writers—are compelled to continue reading or writing.

Examples of Big Ms: finding a career path, someone to love, God; going on an adventure; accepting death. If you aren’t sure what your character wants, go back to those key personality adjectives (check out my previous blog post for more on that). If you’re still stuck, try googling master lists of character motivations—or Pinterest. Think of the classic conflicts too, like Man v. Man or Man v. Technology, etc. The main motivation will also be something that in a series will transfer to the next book as the or a component of the series arc. This will also dictate your characters’ growth.

The little motivations or “Little Ms” are things that can be solved easily in a scene or two. These can be base needs, like food or taking a nap, or little conflicts between characters. They can also be subplots, but within a series, should be solved by the end of each novel.

Motivations can also be negative (called aversions). This is only a strong NOT wanting. For example, let’s say your character wants to get into a specific University, so then the motivation becomes NOT wanting to be rejected. Think: What does my character not want to happen? Another way to look at this is through fear. What is my character afraid might happen?

Your main character has to yearn for something, and that yearning will determine the scope of the plot (to be explored in another post). Once you’ve decided your character—or characters—the next question will be, is my character going to get X (Big M) by the end of the novel (“success” or “failure”)? Determine this and you can start plotting!

You can also start writing without having this all figured out, but with a clear motivation in mind as you write, the plot will become clearer and clearer as the steps to accomplishment or failure will seem obvious.

Motivations also help us shape our characters’ morals and values, but that’s a topic for another day!

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