Page 1 of 1

Plot help with character motivation

Posted: October 16th, 2010, 5:14 am
by xouba

I turn to your massive wisdom to ask for some help. I've got a problem with my MC's starting motivation. All looks logical and sound, but I can't "feel" it. It doesn't grab me by the neck and force me to keep on reading, so to speak.

The setting is a somewhat classic medieval age. The MC is an old soldier that, 30 years ago, was saved by another character (let's call him "F") from a POW camp belonging to barbarians. He was wounded, tortured, and generally treated un-gentlemanly. For a week, F single-handedly dragged an almost lame MC over enemy lands, fed him, healed him, etc. Now F is in his death bed, and asks a favour to the MC: bring his grandson, born of his late son and a woman of the people that imprisoned the MC in the past, to his house, to be raised like a "civilized man".

The MC is an honorable man and should do it, but ... I think something's lacking. There must be something that tells the reader that the MC can't refuse, something really important and "big" that can be instantly felt and understood. And I don't know what it is.

Besides, I wanted the MC not to be so honorable until now, to make it a conflict for him: follow his "unhonorable" nature or behave for once?

I thought that the MC could have had an affair with F's wife in the past, so the grandson was in truth his own grandson. And to make it a bit more interesting, F knew, but shut up until now (for whatever reason). So now the MC should repay F for being saved by him and for cheating on with his wife; and also, the MC should hate his grandson living with the people that left him lame and without honour (because he couldn't be a good soldier after his wounds).

So ... what do you think? Opinions, suggestions ...?

Thanks a lot.

Re: Plot help with character motivation

Posted: October 16th, 2010, 10:36 am
by polymath
The Hero's Journey often involves three refusals of the quest. Increasing inward pressure to act and three refusals are a good plot starter for building toward an inciting crisis.

Three emotional motivations, shame, duty, anger in some permutation, would fit the bill.

Shamed by F, but the emcee feels rescuing F's grandson is not his duty. Simple first refusal.

A call to duty by village elders for an attack on the barbarians, but the emcee is too old for the levy. Duty built on shame, the emcee loses self-worth from being passed over. He's refused. It's not his refusal. He's annoyed, in denial that he's perceived as not up to the quest. But he's secretly pleased he doesn't have to go. Second, more complex refusal.

Third refusal, the villain is revealed. Say, a barbarian who's raising the grandson for a nefarious purpose the emcee deeply disapproves of. The emcee experiences a crisis of conscience, but it just causes him to worry and lose sleep and increase his shame and anger.

Then the inciting crisis is the tipping point, the straw that breaks the camel's back. Say, it turns out the grandson's being primed to assassinate the emcee because the villain was slighted by the emcee or maybe the emcee represents a threat to the villain. Immediate preemptive action is called for before the grandson reaches full potential.

Re: Plot help with character motivation

Posted: October 16th, 2010, 12:12 pm
by dios4vida
My only input would be that war heros tend to have a very high sense of honor and duty, especially when it comes to their fellow soldiers. Since F saved MC's life, there's a kind of blood-bond between them. That's a serious deal in a lot of cultures (I saved your life so now you're obligated to do one last thing for me). Building that into your society could give a good motivation - he has to go through with this because of the blood-bond, but his "unsavory" side doesn't want to go. Now you have motivation and internal tension.

And if this grandson IS the MC's and not F's, then you have shame like polymath said. Bam! Sounds like a solid motivation to me.

I think you have a good playground. I say take a break, go down the slide and swings a few times and see if it "fits." Even if this isn't the perfect motivation, I think that spending some time musing over what you've got will lead you to that perfect, immutable motivation.

Re: Plot help with character motivation

Posted: October 16th, 2010, 2:03 pm
by Margo
What is the thing the MC most fears in this world? What is the MC's greatest desire? I firmly believe these two questions account for 90% of character motivation. You can then use the fear to make him do something, or you can make him refuse to do something because of that fear. You can endanger the thing he most wants in the world, possibly to make him do the thing he fears. You can also put him in a double bind where doing what he must do will probably cost him his greatest desire. Lots of variations.

Reminds me I have more character work to do.

Re: Plot help with character motivation

Posted: October 17th, 2010, 3:42 am
by xouba
There are great ideas here, and I'll think about them carefully. Thanks everyone! :-)