A Working List of Terrible Character Motivations


I was soaking in the tub last night and pondering how to motivate two of my characters to go where I wanted them to go in my novel’s new chapter. Instead of logical or even decent ideas, the only ones that came to mind were paper thin. They practically scream, “You’ll go here because I told you to!” Like stubborn children, of course, they dug in their heels and refused.

So I decided to amuse them with a list of the worst, hackneyed, or borrowed motivations instead. The good news is they must have been fairly amused because a good idea decided to come along, too. So, for your amusement, I present the best of the worst.

They go to (place):

  • because three ghosts–past, present, and future–visited them in the night.
  • because they made the Kessel run in 12 parsecs.
  • because a group of Nazis shot his father in the stomach, and he has to use the Holy Grail to save his life.
  • because Shia LaBeouf saw it in a comic once.
  • because he has Dead Pool’s/Wolverine’s healing factor and can’t be killed.
  • because he just found out that he is the last of a near invincible race.
  • because he volunteered as tribute.
  • because he hopes his vampire and wolf boyfriends will be there–even though he can’t choose between them.
  • because, sorry, Mario, but your Princess is in another castle.
  • because he bought a junker car that, to his surprise, can transform into a robot.
  • because when he checked the killer’s hook was still hanging from the door…
  • because he’s getting the band back together.
  • because he’s about to crack this case wide open.
  • because it was a dark and stormy night.
  • because: “KHAAAAAAAAAAAN!”

Guest Blog: Writing What You DON’T Know

If you have a minute, check out my “Behind the Scenes” post on “Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire” about writing beyond what you know. And unless you have been moonlighting as The Most Interesting Man in the World, it’s a problem that will hit sooner rather than the typical way this cliche ends.

Special thanks to YA author Mandy McGinnis for the opportunity!

On Writing Well

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work.”

“Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

–Ira Glass

Jim Carrey’s Video to Emma Stone Teaches Writers Why Desperation is the World’s Worst Cologne

After seeing Jim Carrey’s video love note to Emma Stone, either he’s channeling Charlie Sheen or he’s really, and I mean, really bad at asking a girl out.

Photo of Jim Carrey
Writers: Jim Carrey shows you how not to get published. (From TruLife)

It’s an eerie combination of overly earnest, creepy, and only vaguely funny. Sure, what 22-year-old woman doesn’t want to hear a guy who’s nearly 50 talk about their future of chubby, freckle-faced babies and how the ravages of time affect his bodily functions?

The answer: all of them.

Many younger writers, so full of the need to express themselves (they’re so deep!), pull a Jim Carrey. They pour out every emotion, every bit of angst. They’re frustrated and railing against something. They’re begging and screaming for attention, not caring that it’s attention for all the wrong reasons. It’s like Jerry MacGuire: “Sooth me. Save me! Love me!”

Editors and readers will be more than happy to ignore this self-centered, whining story. And if that doesn’t drive the message home then the stack of rejection letters will.  Because what Jim Carrey dashed off was a terrible, clumsy attempt at courting — the equivalent to a horrible first draft.

Hey, we’ve all been there. I’ve deleted or tossed hundreds of stories. Thousands of pages. It’s the fawnlike steps toward becoming a confidant writer, one who can write about what he or she cares about while making it interesting to an audience. Simply put: Forget your ego. Realize you that it’s about them — their wants and needs.

But write your heart out. That’s what first drafts are for. Just make sure that you revise and edit until the story has that same effect on your audience, not just you.

If that seems like an alien concept, then watch this video and pretend you’re Emma Stone. That’s probably how your readers feel — they’re just too nice to tell you.