Sometimes writing realistically is the hardest thing in the world. Who am I kidding? Writing realistically IS the hardest thing in the world. Have you ever read a novel/novella/short story where the whole time you were just laughing at how ridiculous the situations came about? Do you ever hate it when everything happens to the characters and not because of the characters? Does your protagonist lack a driving motive?
Motives create everything. You’re writing your story because of (fill in the blank with your motive for this specific story). You chose your protagonist because of ___. Your antagonist hates the protagonist because of ___. Even if having a motive for the protagonist confuses you, there needs to be something driving his or her actions.
An easy way to recognize strong motive is to analyze your antagonist situation. Since antagonists can be anything, opposing motives can take any form against the protagonist. If you’re writing a romance novel, maybe there are just too many secrets between the protagonist and the love interest for there to be a successful relationship. In that case, the antagonist could either be secrets or perhaps the characters’ minds working against them. This scenario is a bit difficult to analyze because secrets don’t really have a motive. Secrets do always create problems; that’s just a natural thing. If your antagonist is just the universe working against your protagonist, that’s okay! You don’t necessarily need a dragon or a lawsuit to cause tension in your story.
When you have an antagonist in human or group form, there are some other motives to think about. People get jealous. People get angry or scared. People get nervous or feel threatened by someone else. If your antagonist (Joe) is working against the protagonist (Hannah) because he’s scared of her psychic abilities, you have a strong motive. Not every antagonist’s motive has to be ‘oh my gosh, I just really, really wanna take over the world’. Voldemort wants a nose – I mean, Voldemort wants to live forever/kill Harry. Kronos wants to rise from Tartarus. Queen Levana wants to marry Kai/kill him. President Snow is just a pain in the neck in every respect.
Now that you’ve identified your antagonist’s motive, take a look at your protagonist. If you’re flipping or scrolling through your story and getting bored/rolling your eyes at everything, you might have one or all of five main problems:
- Your plot is dull
- Your characters are flat
- Your basic story has been written a million times
- Your antagonist/protagonist is ridiculous
- You’re just tired of thinking about your story
I see these problems every time I open my documents or notebooks. I have these problems today. I’ll have them tomorrow. They are never going to go away. That’s okay, though, because I know the basics of fixing them. Now I can’t help you fix letter E. That one is all up to you to work on. One of my biggest problems is either A or D. This post is talking mainly about letter D.
Many times, your story is flat or dull or ridiculous because your protagonist isn’t moving. Yeah, maybe terrible things are happening to her. Yeah, maybe the antagonist is pushing all her buttons. But what is she doing? Why is she fighting against the antagonist? Is she tired or scared or protecting someone? Is she actually super evil and trying to take over the world while the antagonist tries to stop her? Before you can tweak the dialogue or add in those commas, think long and hard about why your protagonist is doing whatever she’s doing.
Stories are about lives. Sometimes these lives are completely out-of-this-world. Literally. Like Luke Skywalker. In life, everyone is a protagonist in a different story than the next person. Good stories aren’t about the protagonist who decided to accept her fate as a punching bag for the antagonist. She can’t just wait for an anvil to fall onto her enemy. I mean, she could technically do that, but she’d just be wasting time. Good stories are about what the protagonist decides to do about something. It can be saving the world, destroying the world, buying a cat, or getting the number of the guy next door.
Your characters are supposed to drive your story. Don’t just make things happen. Coincidences don’t make up a good plotline. Have your protagonist make a bad decision every once in awhile. What are the consequences? How do they set her back from her goals? How do they benefit the antagonist? Do these consequences just add fuel to the antagonist’s bonfire?
Look over your story. Figure out your motives if you haven’t already. Remember that you’re telling a story and not just torturing your protagonist. I know it’s fun. Keep in mind that what drives your character will develop as you write. Maybe her motive will bring about an interesting backstory or subplot. Your story will benefit so much from just having a motive for each major character.
Thanks for reading this all-over-the-place post!
Until next time,