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  1. #16
    Peckish hippokrene's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jon Sprunk View Post
    Motivation A is not inherently more interesting than Motivation B. If the Big Bad has a specific, compelling reason to want the power granted by seizing control of the world/universe, that motivation will be interesting.
    Would you say then that 'BB wants to take over the kingdom because they make the best sandwiches in the world and he's a foodie' is as inherently compelling as 'BB wants to take over the kingdom because he believes it's the only way to protect it from conquest by a hostile nation?'

  2. #17
    Palinodic Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by hippokrene View Post
    Would you say then that 'BB wants to take over the kingdom because they make the best sandwiches in the world and he's a foodie' is as inherently compelling as 'BB wants to take over the kingdom because he believes it's the only way to protect it from conquest by a hostile nation?'
    Yes, why wouldn't it be? What you're talking about are scope and tone of a story and one sort of scope and/or tone is not inherently more interesting to everyone than another. One sort of story, character motivation, structure, theme, style, etc. is not more interesting or important or more commercial than another. It's all story.

    Also, motivations are always complex and interact with structure (and plot, etc.) to shape structure and scene. It's true that you can use a basic play/film story structure and use it for characters with different motivations, but it results in different stories that build on both and they are not separate.

    So Caustic Duality is trying to find motivation of personal interest and asking for votes and experiences about comic, horror, searching mystery, romance, etc., none of which will particularly help. What if we all say we want a comic motivation and like the very cool sandwich idea hippokrene proposes? Does that mean that CD must write a comic novel to be interesting? What if comic stories bore CD?

    So we're back to the personal. What things in life in general most interest you, Caustic?

  3. #18
    >:|Angry Beaver|:< Fung Koo's Avatar
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    Generally speaking, there are two sorts of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic.

    Intrinsic motivations are the basic and persistent forces a person has. Some authors go on the idea that every character has a single central attribute that asserts itself in every situation -- a core intrinsic motivation. So, when The Big Bad Chef takes over on the surface because his sandwiches are better than everyone elses, but perhaps there's an underlying reason for his hubris -- perhaps he seeks praise from women to replace his mother, or is trying to please his father who never approved of any of his creative efforts. Or maybe he has a Philia for cured meat.

    This intrinsic motivator asserts itself constantly though, which is why its intrinsic. Big Bad Chef has an interaction with Heroine Food Critic -- their playful banter has a subtext, built around the intrinsic motivators for each character. The thing with the intrinsic motivator is that the characters can't help it -- it's just how they are. A mean streak isn't simply a mean streak -- it has a trigger, or type of trigger, that makes it worse.

    Personally, I like any intrinsic motivator that ends up genuinely contributing to the plot.

    Extrinsic motivators are the plot points, natural forces, and situationally-forced interactions between the characters that force the characters to react to each other. These are your more standard "story" components, especially in SFF. The Big Bad Chef seeks success in the sandwich biz in a society ruled by hyperhygenic psychopaths, the Food Inspection Officers dressed in gas masks and spraying ammonia on everything. The Big Bad Chef attempts to spread his sandwich empire across the deep space stations of the far future galactic frontier. Forces outside the Chef have to be overcome.

    But the two types of motivators need interplay. So, a spacedust storm befalls the Big Bad Chef on his way to New Chicago to set up his new business, and in the spacetruck with him are his Dastardly Jealous Sous Chef and Lazy Opinionated Kitchen Minion. They end up trapped in an interstellar dust drift after spinning out around a neutron star, with only a cargohold full of pre-mortal vampiric sandwich goods. The satanic cows threaten to overtake the ship! They have to overcome the situation -- it's extrinsic, forces outside them have collected into a cluster-eff -- but how that happens is character driven. The three trapped adventurers have to figure out the solution to the extrinsic problem, but their individual intrinsic issues assert themselves in the decision making process (which is where the seeds of future intrinsically derived plot points originate -- some grudge is born, a seed of love is planted, etc).

    So... that's what I like.

  4. #19
    Noumenon - answers to Nou Andrew Leon Hudson's Avatar
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    Very interesting, up until the point you said "genuinely contributing to the plot".

    After that... then you were cooking.

  5. #20
    >:|Angry Beaver|:< Fung Koo's Avatar
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    Well, as we all know, satanic vampire cows result in the best pastrami.

    Positively packed terroir.


  6. #21
    Palinodic Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    LOL, it gets even more microscopic than that, because characters' world views, changes in those views, outside forces, inside baggage and decision making processes all effect each thing the character does, including things we don't see happen on stage. Whether an author goes deep into inner motivation or not, that motivation is still there; the motivation is shaped by all these things and in turns shapes other things, particularly character inter-dynamics.

    But the reality is that whatever the motivation for the Chef doing his pastrami thing, some readers will not like it and find it interesting. We've talked about this before -- you're not going to find a foolproof motivation. No matter how trite, tried and true you think a motivation is to be appealing, at least half of your readers will think it's utterly boring. No matter how avant garde and weird and obscure you think your motivation is, at least a third of your readers will think it's trite and at least half again will find it boring. So my suggestion, as usual, is throw out starting from that orientation unless it really interests you to play with those reactions, in which case, go have fun.

    But that's what we're looking at -- what interests you. That's what you're asking us about ourselves, CD, as you try to figure out for yourself what you want as interesting. Villains with pastrami may not do it. Heroes with pastrami against space cow vampires may not do it. For me, the answer would be very boring -- I don't have a set thematic template that only interests me. I do have themes that interest me -- how cultures mix, what propels a sacrifice, etc. but it's not set I'll use those in a story. Themes probably creep in, themes that others may be able to identify better than me even. One of the things the Flash Fiction contest does with its theme commandments is make you take an idea and bend it to what interests you. Sometimes, often, readers will see themes that resonate with them, but which you didn't put in and don't really see it being there. Sometimes they'll be negative ones. It's all part of the experience and communication of fiction. So if I want to write about a young person who goes through the transformation from sheltered innocent to raging tortured warrior and have a core motivation that he set out to redeem his father's name but then develops motives making him more and more like his father or causing him to abandon the first motive, etc., cause it interests me, I can do that. It will bore another author.

    One thing that may be helpful is to go to John Scalzi's Whatever blog and look up all the Big Idea posts (he was going to do a separate website for them but those plans got scrapped.) These guests posts are for books that are mostly SFF and it's the author writing about how they got the idea for the story and developed it. And they are all different. (Plus a good sampling of what is actually going on in the marketplace.) So you learn that author X had a dream about a woman floating in water and from that developed a character with the motivation to get free from a slave mine for a theme about what it means to be really human, etc., whatever it is. All the basic train of thought that the author had (or at least wants to share) are there in those essays. And you can look at the comments to these too, if you have the mind to, and you'll see the different reactions to the stories described.

    Motivation is a long road. What you start with is often not what you end up with. And you may not know if something is really interesting to you unless you write it out. Things that bug you tend to make for good themes and motivations. Things that you really love, ditto. If you are obsessed with pastrami, well then space cow vampires and chefs may be the thing you can write 300-600 pages about. Or at least a short story. And there will be someone out there who likes it. Whether you can find them -- that's the harder part. And even if you do, even if it's millions of people, millions of other people will find it boring, as we know.

    So if you're searching around for something to catch your interest -- ask people, not necessarily author people -- what is the most important thing to them, what do they hate, etc. And look for the moment when you go "Squirrel!" among their answers.

  7. #22
    Quote Originally Posted by KatG View Post
    So Caustic Duality is trying to find motivation of personal interest and asking for votes and experiences about comic, horror, searching mystery, romance, etc., none of which will particularly help. What if we all say we want a comic motivation and like the very cool sandwich idea hippokrene proposes? Does that mean that CD must write a comic novel to be interesting? What if comic stories bore CD?

    So we're back to the personal. What things in life in general most interest you, Caustic?

    Well, I suppose I am trying to find a happy medium. My greatest fear is to spend a lot of time and effort writing/creating something only to find that pretty much nobody likes it because they find it to be full of trite tropes and rookie errors. I understand that good writing is an iterative process littered with the corpses of old mistakes, but I'd rather start off in the right direction rather than the wrong one.

    Basically, I just want to know what to avoid, and what to focus on to help make my output more interesting.

    If people told me they thought the sandwich idea was a good path, and I found it interesting to me, then I'd take that idea and figure out some interesting way to twist it, and pursue that line of thought. To me, the idea is just as crazy as someone saying, "We sure have had a lot of shitty superhero movies. If only we had something that didn't make all these common mistakes!" only to be followed up by The Avengers as a breath of fresh air to many, many people.

    In other words, I'd rather work on something that interests more people than just myself, and I don't want to suck in the meantime.

    It's hard for me to figure out good motivations because the universe is so... expansive. It's huge. And when you start looking into grand scales, you also get tempted by the concept of time. Cloud Atlas recently tried a rather expansive narrative, spanning hundreds of years, and many people found it to be irritating/confusing/pointless. However, I thought it was quite interesting (although it's the sort of idea I much wished for the ending of LOST).
    Last edited by CausticDuality; October 31st, 2012 at 02:10 PM.

  8. #23
    >:|Angry Beaver|:< Fung Koo's Avatar
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    Lost is in many ways an ideal of example of what Kat mentions about motivations ending up somewhere different than where they started. Whatever the original plan was for Lost, it got Lost along the way, and morphed. What was nice about Lost for me, despite the rather flat ending, was that the intrinsic motivations still remained true for the characters. Above all, Lost was good character drama right to the end, and the set of extrinsic circumstances that were so intriguing in the beginning simply got dragged down by too many seasons thanks to network TV. The extrinsic motivators started going awry, IMO.

    BSG developed a similar issue, but the producers had the temerity to stick with a closed narrative.

    Part of the point I was trying to get across without outright saying it is that motivations for characters need to come out in the situations they find themselves in. It's a bit of a Show vs. Tell issue, though I hate that distinction. The best stories, to me at least, don't tell you the motivation. Rather, they expose it, make it evident in interactions, and open it up for reader interpretation. Every reader will see something different if you give them the chance to. And readers tend to like stories more when they have a chance to put themselves into it.

    Any motivation is valid if you write it so it feels valid. The first person it needs to feel valid to is you, the writer. Then you edit until it feels valid for more people.

  9. #24
    I guess my followup question would be, what makes a motive convincing/interesting/valid to you?

  10. #25
    Shadow's Lure (June 2011)
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    Quote Originally Posted by hippokrene View Post
    Would you say then that 'BB wants to take over the kingdom because they make the best sandwiches in the world and he's a foodie' is as inherently compelling as 'BB wants to take over the kingdom because he believes it's the only way to protect it from conquest by a hostile nation?'
    I'm fairly certain that a story written by one of my favorite authors about the foodie motivation would appeal to me more than a story about the second motivation in the hands of a writer I can't stand. It's all subjective.

  11. #26
    Shadow's Lure (June 2011)
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    Quote Originally Posted by CausticDuality View Post
    Well, I suppose I am trying to find a happy medium. My greatest fear is to spend a lot of time and effort writing/creating something only to find that pretty much nobody likes it because they find it to be full of trite tropes and rookie errors. I understand that good writing is an iterative process littered with the corpses of old mistakes, but I'd rather start off in the right direction rather than the wrong one.

    Basically, I just want to know what to avoid, and what to focus on to help make my output more interesting.

    If people told me they thought the sandwich idea was a good path, and I found it interesting to me, then I'd take that idea and figure out some interesting way to twist it, and pursue that line of thought. To me, the idea is just as crazy as someone saying, "We sure have had a lot of shitty superhero movies. If only we had something that didn't make all these common mistakes!" only to be followed up by The Avengers as a breath of fresh air to many, many people.

    In other words, I'd rather work on something that interests more people than just myself, and I don't want to suck in the meantime.
    I hate to break it to you, but you're going to make rookie mistakes. Everyone does. The only way to get past them is to write, and write, and write (and read, read, read), and write some more. As far as finding a "good" character motivation, look inside. Observe the people around you. Why are they doing what they do? The characters in your stories are just people, too. Create them as believable people, and their motivations will reveal themselves.

  12. #27
    It could be worse. ~tmso Moderator N. E. White's Avatar
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    I know I'm on to something good when I start to write the first draft or the first initial synopsis and I make myself cry (or shudder or laugh or feel something). That's when I know I have something someone else might like, too.

    Of course, that's advice from an unpublished hack.

    I do believe Mr. Sprunk is right, though. You have to just write, and see what works for you and your potential audience. Good luck!

  13. #28
    Palinodic Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Well, I suppose I am trying to find a happy medium.

    There is no medium. You're setting up false endpoints and saying get me to the middle of them. You're trying to find a magic formula but again, none exists. You will have to deal with you and your own brain and your brain isn't a safe path.

    My greatest fear is to send a lot of time and effort writing/creating something only to find that pretty much nobody likes it because they find it to be full of trite tropes and rookie errors.

    1) Again, at least half of those who may read your novel will not like it and a good section of those will say that it's because it's trite, cliched and amateurish in their view. Even if you are a bestseller, this will happen, but it will happen with more people. Even if you win prestigious awards, this will happen, but it will happen with more people. So if that's really your greatest fear, you might as well give up writing altogether now because you don't get to be the exception and be the first universally loved author ever. If you write fiction, you will be rejected. A lot. No matter how well you do. You cannot avoid producing this reaction. 2) You are trying to treat readers as one body who will possibly have one reaction to your work and one set of criteria about it. That is a rookie mistake, if you want one. I have rarely if ever found a reader who deep down cares about tropes, as people insist on calling it. Some of them talk about it, but they'll inevitably don't care about it if they like something. It's usually when they don't like something because the characters or the writing style or some personal preference didn't work for them. And then the dragon suddenly gets trotted out as the problem, but if you actually question them, you generally find that neither the trope (element) nor a particular way an author might handle it is really what's bugging them. Even if, however, you decidedly stay away from one trope that you fear is problematic, you'll still use another one because again, all human beings know how to parse all story outcomes, structures and themes from the time they are about ten years old. We are bathed in story from the very beginning. This has little to do with individual reader reaction. You can try to pretend variety doesn't exist all you like; variety is still there in the real world.

    So what you really fear is that you'll be giving a speech and realize you're doing it in your underwear. And I'm right there with you. But we have to learn to go on or go home because we are all giving speeches in our underwear. In time, you will embrace ridicule. Keep in mind the response of Charles Stross when Christopher Priest called him an Internet puppy who was not worthy of having gotten the Clarke Award nomination -- he crowed in delight and made his fans a T-shirt with the meme they could buy. That's where we all have to go. It's not arrogance or certainty or refusal to listen and learn. It's acceptance of the reality of the variance of reader reaction. (And that the reading experience has little to do with tropes -- an obsession only fantasy fiction really has rather pointlessly in my view.)

    I understand that good writing is an iterative process littered with the corpses of old mistakes, but I'd rather start off in the right direction rather than the wrong one.


    There is no right direction, there is no right answer; it's not school. There is only your brain. And in the beginning, your brain may have no clue what direction it wants to go in. It may go down multiple paths, looking for lunch. You will have to go with it.

    There is no good writing. As a writer, you will have a much easier time of it if you just let the whole concept of good-bad go bye bye. Also quality, commercialism, literature, best lists, and any other way of keeping score and trying to turn fiction writing into a sports event or a standard achievement test, neither of which it is. There are your goals, your dreams, your explorations and experiments, your frustrations and your interests. There is you learning how to bend words to your particular will. And there are reams and reams of stuff about this learning that may be useful to you -- you have to sort it out for yourself and what you use will be unique to you. In working with authors, the number one problem they have trying to get a story written is that they do not listen to themselves. (Number two is remembering what they created as they write and whether it got down on the page or not, which other people can certainly help you with in rounds of drafts.)

    Basically, I just want to know what to avoid, and what to focus on to help make my output more interesting.

    Again, there is no thing to avoid, there is no will always be widely interesting get out of jail free card. There are no rules, there are no safe paths. There is just your brain.

    If people told me they thought the sandwich idea was a good path, and I found it interesting to me,

    So say a group of people tell you that the sandwich is the good path. What will you do with the other group of people who think the sandwich idea is the worst idea ever? Because again, you'll have both. Wouldn't the what interests you part be better to work on than the someone told me to write about a sandwich part? How interesting is that story going to be if you don't actually want to write it?

    "We sure have had a lot of shitty superhero movies. If only we had something that didn't make all these common mistakes!" only to be followed up by The Avengers as a breath of fresh air to many, many people.


    Yes, except it wasn't fresh air at all. (As you may be noting, I'm not sure from the text.) It stayed deeply true to forty year old comic books about these characters (except for the fun changes made to Iron Man earlier,) which is why the Black Widow uses sex, the battle scenes look the way they do and the Hulk suddenly has great control at the end of the movie. Joss Whedon was only allowed to have one female team member by the studio (so he bumped up Colbie's role to squeeze out some more.) It wasn't fresh air, it had nothing to do with tropes, it just had Whedon's style and good dialogue. And millions of people hated the movie and thought it was dreck and everything wrong with the business. And millions thought it was great, whether or not they thought there were weak points. Variety. You can not escape it. It's like the Hulk.

    In other words, I'd rather work on something that interests more people than just myself, and I don't want to suck in the meantime.

    Anything you do will interest others besides yourself and other people will hate it. As for sucking, if you don't let yourself suck, the story probably isn't going to come out. And plus, you know that's not possible to do anyway.

    And when you start looking into grand scales,

    Are you actually interested in grand scales or is it something you think that you have to be interested in?

    Cloud Atlas recently tried a rather expansive narrative, spanning hundreds of years, and many people found it to be irritating/confusing/pointless.

    Well no, Cloud Atlas was an internationally successful, best-selling and highly acclaimed, award-winning and nominated novel by David Mitchell. And I'm sure that millions hated it. But millions of others loved it and they made a movie from it. And millions love the movie and think it's cool. And millions think it was interesting but couldn't really manage what the book did. And millions hated it for everything from the fact that they think Halle Berry can't act to Tom's hairpieces to only being interested in the future apocalypse stuff, etc. Again, variety.

    So again, what interests you? A lot of things may interest you, so sometimes it is easier to figure out what does not. Do you really want to do something epic and big? Play with time? Do you want to do something dark, comic, horror filled, small and intimate, mysterious, action adventure, romantic, gun battles, tragic, roguish, both, neither? If those things don't interest, then you can throw them out and narrow it down. Do you want a main character who is sad -- would that be fun? Or who must learn to be brave? Or falls in love, fights with his dad, is an orphan, etc. There will be something in the world -- and it may be a small thing -- that will especially catch your attention, and then you'll write about that. You'll be talking along and suddenly something that you hear or see or daydream will cause you to go "Squirrel!" like the talking dog in "Up!" You find a squirrel, then you figure out what the story of the squirrel is and you do all the tedious, uncertain, frustrating work of writing actual words for that story, then maybe rewrite one to seventeen times or rewrite in your head and pretend you don't rewrite and then you probably start getting some other people's reactions to the story. And they will probably have ideas about how they'd want to see the story that they will put forth as problems in your story. And instead of being sad about this, you will milk their brains for all they are worth, driving them crazy asking questions about which exact things bothered them, which specific words, what is the real meaning behind their vague feelings and hunch that you should really be writing about a crazy squid robot instead. And then you'll take whatever actually makes some sense to you and you'll use it and you play with words some more. And then you'll have a story. And many people will hate it and others will like it or parts of it, and you get it where you want it to go. And then it floats off like a balloon if you launch it or get some publisher to invest in it and you have no control over how people see it ever again and keep your mouth shut and let them say what they want to say because they own their own reaction to it. And you accept that those reactions are not universal but theirs and vary. And you try another story if you are so inclined. You cannot escape being in your underwear. You hope to connect and to connect with enough people to go forward, but really, your brain will make up stories whether there are people to hear them or not. So it's mostly you trying to harness that in words, the words being the story and sometimes more important than the story, both being your brain at play, and trying to learn to be able to harness it better and you never stop that learning. And people reject you, usually not for the reasons you think or even the reasons they say. But some won't and anyway, the story wanted to come out. This is why many fiction authors sound like they go into fugue states and start talking in tongues. Because they do.

    So if you see something or perhaps more importantly read something and you think, I wouldn't do that, well what would you do? And do you really care enough about it to write that story? Find out. Go to a mall, write down everything that catches your attention and then figure out why it did. That's why reading those Big Idea columns can be useful -- it's about them being possessed and so you'll come to see possession as normal, not fearful.

    Here is an interview with Mr. Jon Sprunk about him being possessed: http://onlythebestscifi.blogspot.ca/...terviewed.html

  14. #29
    Registered User Zo0tie's Avatar
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    I think the most interesting are what motivates ordinary people but in extraordinary circumstances. Sometimes the people themselves are extraordinary but have ordinary motivations. Say a mother protecting her child from harm but the mother and child are part of a super race and the harm is a less advanced aggressive militaristic race that doesn't realize it has bitten off more than it can chew.

  15. #30
    lorcutus.tolere Gumboot's Avatar
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    I like complex motivations. Characters with multiple aims, that can change, and interfere with each other. It makes for a much more interesting story.

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