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IWW Practice-W Exercise Archives
Exercise: Motivations

These exercises were written by IWW members and administrators to provide structured practice opportunities for its members. You are welcome to use them for practice as well. Please mention that you found them at the Internet Writers Workshop (http://www.internetwritingwor kshop.org/).

Prepared by: Florence Cardinal and Rhéal Nadeau
Posted on: Sun, 15 Jul 2001
Reposted on: Sat, 12 Jul 2003
Reposted on: Sun, 21 Aug 2005

Exercise: Motivations

We have all seen the lists of basic types of story conflict: person versus self, person versus nature, and so on. This exercise deals with person versus self - with inner conflict.

Sometimes, when we are writing (or reading) we can plainly see the motivation for a character's behavior. However, often that motivation is only the obvious one. Below that, perhaps going back to something in the character's past, or even something he or she only imagines, is the real reason for the conflict.

Here are a couple of ideas Rhéal suggested:

  1. The child facing a dare is torn between fear (including fear of looking like a coward), pride, and the desire to fit in..
  2. That dragon is scary and dangerous, but the question is: will the knight attack, or chicken out?

Here are a couple of my ideas dealing with this topic:

  1. Gil seems to be afraid of Mary and won't let her get close to him. However, when he was a child, his father walked out on his mother and the kids, and his real fear is that he might do the same.
  2. This is a common plot device: Mark is a real go-getter. He claws his way up the corporate ladder, apparently hungry for the money and power. In truth, he has always felt his father wasn't proud of him and he is trying to make the old man sit up and take notice.

This week's exercise: In 300 words, show us how your character's behaviour is influenced by an obvious goal as well as an underlying (real) motivation. Try to avoid outright narration or explanation.

Florence Cardinal's wrap-up
Posted on: Sun, 22 Jul 2001

This was an excellent exercise and most of you really did well. Some of you struggled, as I did, to get the two motivations into it. I know it wasn't easy. I also had this problem when I wrote my exercise. Most of us got it though, I think, although some of the underlying motives were so subtle it took several readings to understand them.

Although this was an interesting and worthwhile exercise, it wasn't what Rheal and I intended when we came up with it. We were thinking more along the lines of the two motivations being in conflict. This will be an exercise coming up before too long.

All in all, a valid exercise, and, for the most part, everyone completed it successfully.

Florence Cardinal

Rhéal Nadeau's wrap-up
Posted on: July 22, 2003

I must admit, I'm always left a little frustrated when we run this exercise. I keep thinking the exercise wasn't really clear enough - then I realize that the truth is that this is a hard topic (and therefore, a valuable one.)

The exercise was to have a character demonstrate two different motivations. The initial intention was to have that character be torn between those motivations, but somehow the exercise never came out that way (so we did another exercise titled "Torn" to try again.) The remaining goal was to have two distinct motivations - either conflicting ones, or a public one and a private one.

Some of the submissions this week did manage one or the other. In some, however, I could only see a single motivation (and surprisingly enough, it was usually the "hidden" one - as if the writers, in trying to get there, took the overt motivation for granted..) In fact, in some submissions, I couldn't find any motivations at all. I could see people talking, acting, but I had no idea what they were looking for, what they wanted to get.

Why is this?

Well, the easy explanation is that I'm dense - and I may certainly have missed some motives that were presented too subtly for me.

The next possibility is that, as writers, we tend to take things for granted - we tend to assume people will understand what is not said (or think we said it, because it's so clear in our minds. The opposite of this, of course, is when people don't get it because it *wasn't* clear in our minds!)

In some cases, the problem seemed to be that the motivations shown were not those of the protagonist, but those of another party - not the character I was watching. As writers, we need to keep in mind who the point-of-view and central characters are (not necessarily the same), and make sure that comes out in the writing.

Finally, of course, motivations is a hard topic - it requires a well-defined character, and defining characters, and having those characters act consistently, for valid reasons of their own, is just not that easy. (Too often, we try to fit the characters into the plot - we need to have a something happen because it fits the plot, so that's what the character has to do.) And certainly, trying to do this in the tight word counts of an exercise is a special challenge (but then, we'll often need to do just that with our minor characters - they too need to act for reasons of their own!)

So, the message I learn is that this is a tricky concept, and therefore one we should continue to explore. I'll ponder how to improve the exercise or create new ones (suggestions are welcome!), in the meantime!

As always, congratulations to everyone who participated - I'm sure you all learned something about this subject.


Web site created by Rhéal Nadeau and the administrators of the Internet Writing Workshop.
Modified by Gayle Surrette.